Orlando Magic

Harris Embracing Leadership Role in Orlando

Orlando MagicIncentives were in place if Tobias Harris left the Magic and signed a free agent deal in a major market.

Nike was prepared to offer an upgrade to his endorsement deal if he landed with either the Lakers, Clippers, Nets, Knicks or Bulls.

Sacramento even presented the 23-year-old forward with a lucrative offer to leave the Magic. 

The temptation of a maximum contract with perhaps the most dysfunctional team in the league or even the enticement of additional money from the athletic apparel giant wasn’t enough for Harris to abandon Orlando, a franchise that made him a cornerstone.

It’s clear the rest of the organization values the contributions he makes on a daily basis.

“You have to pay those guys that have a work ethic like that,” said Harris’ cousin and Magic teammate Channing Frye. “He brings a lot to this team, his versatility, his attitude, his determination… you can’t really put a price on that.”

The 6-foot-8 forward molded himself into a viable long range threat, connecting on a career-high 36.4 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, an 11 percent increase form the pervious season.

Following his fourth season in the league, the former Tennessee star solidified himself as one of the most promising forwards in the game, as he averaged 17.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and a steal per game.

Perhaps his greatest strength is his versatility, as Harris has enough strength to defend power forwards while possessing enough speed and athleticism to keep up with small forwards.

“If you look around the NBA, they are playing a lot of small ball,” Harris said. “I played a lot of four last year, I’ve played a lot of four since I’ve been here, so I look at myself as being able to play both positions. What ever position (coach Scott Skiles) puts me in to play, I’m going to accept it.”

Harris is the only player on the roster with some familiarity with Skiles, the coach hired in May. Harris was selected by Charlotte with the 19th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but then was dealt to Milwaukee on draft night.

Magic forward Tobias Harris launches a 3-point shot.
Magic forward Tobias Harris has averaged 16.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game since joining the Magic.

Skiles limited his play to just 11.9 minutes per game during his rookie season, then Harris was shipped out at the trade deadline as the centerpiece going to Orlando in the J.J. Redick trade.

Orlando believes it has finally assembled enough talent to snap a three-year playoff drought.

The team has a talented young core, with the back court duo of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo along with the teams’ talented center Nikola Vucevic, a player the Magic locked in with a four-year, $54 million contract prior to the deadline.

Negotiations with Harris broke down and he entered last summer as a restricted free agent.

Only the Magic had no intentions of letting him walk.

“It was a big priority for us. We had said all along that Tobias was an integral part of the team, he’ll continue to be so,” Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan said. “Tobias wanted to be here, so there was a mutual interest to come to an agreement. It was one of our top priorities over the summer, quite frankly.”

Three days into free agency, Harris signed a four-year, $64 million contract extension.

Harris was one of three players from Orlando to participate at the Team USA mini-camp in Las Vegas this summer, as he was joined by Oladipo and Payton.

As the Magic prepare to climb the Eastern Conference standings, the team looks to drastically improve its defensive effort.

Last season, the team surrendered an average of 101.4 points per game (seventh most in the NBA) and ranked 24th in defensive efficiency.

Magic forward Tobias Harris dunks on the Atlanta Hawks.
Tobias Harris converted 46.6 percent of his attempts from the field last season.

The versatility Harris displays on the defensive end is starting to be mimicked by other forwards on the team.

“We can guard both threes and fours. For that reason alone, we are going to be a nightmare to match up with,” Orlando forward Aaron Gordon said.

Other players on the team couldn’t picture playing next season without Harris.

“He’s obviously a big part of what we do,” Magic guard Evan Fournier said. “We kept talking throughout the summer together and I’m really happy Tobias signed with us.”

Since the team traded away Dwight Howard three years ago, the team has posted a record of 70-178 and the team has yet to send a player to the All-Star game.

If Harris continues to improve, especially with his long range shooting, as he ranked second on the Magic with 87 conversions from 3-point range, he can become the eight player in franchise history to make an All-Star appearance.

Only thing most important thing for Harris is to become a true contender in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s a blessing to be here another four years and to receive that contract,” Harris said. “With that, it’s time now to win as a team. We really have to step it up a notch.”

About Brendan Galella

Brendan Galella founded Shatter the Glass to make the NBA even more accessible to basketball fans. Composing player rankings, team evaluations and intriguing observations, he hopes to turn every reader into a dedicated and educated basketball follower.

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