The Brooklyn Nets and their unrestricted free agent Joe Harris have both maintained they want to stay together.
Sean Marks has openly said that Harris will be the Nets’ No.1 priority in the offseason. Harris has also maintained since February that he intends to re-sign with the Nets and play alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
“Definitely, why wouldn’t you? Obviously, those are guys who I’ve gotten close with now that I’ve been with them this past year,” Harris said. “They’re obviously incredible players. You see what they’re able to do when they are healthy and playing. I don’t think there’s anybody in the NBA who wouldn’t want to play with those guys.”
But it’s easier said than done.
The Nets, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently said in his podcast The Lowe Post, will face stiff competition to retain Harris.
“I have news for the Nets,” Lowe said. “They’re going to have competition for Joe Harris. These teams with cap room all view Joe as a potential very good fit on the floor and a good culture guy.”
Their stiffest competition could come, according to multiple sources, across the river, the New York Knicks.
“Obviously, he’s someone who can spread the floor for RJ (Barrett) and Mitch (Robinson). But he’s so much more than just a spot-up shooter. His locker room presence will be tremendous for the culture they’re building there,” one league source told Empire Sports Media.
An Eastern Conference league executive also believes Harris will definitely command a big contract but he doesn’t see him bolting out of Brooklyn.
“He’s entering the prime years of his career. He will definitely be one of the top free agents at a time when there are no superstars in the market,” the executive told Empire Sports Media.
“But the Nets ownership has been open about their willingness to pay the luxury tax. They have their championship window in front of them. I don’t think they will let him walk,” he added.
Former Nets assistant general manager and current ESPN’s Front Office Insider Bobby Marks said that Harris would command a substantial offer from teams with cap space. He recently broke down the Harris free agency scenario with the Nets:
“Brooklyn would have only the $5.7 million tax midlevel if Harris does not return. They would also lose a possible future trade asset that cannot be replaced. Harris has already established Bird rights with Brooklyn, meaning that the Nets can pay him up to 30% of the cap (which is very unlikely) and an additional five years.
If the luxury tax comes in at $132.7 million, the Nets would start the offseason $9.9 million over the threshold and with a $15.9 million penalty. A Harris contract starting at $12 million would push the Nets’ tax bill to $49.9 million — a combined $46 million in 2020-21 to retain the 28-year-old.”
In the 2018-19 season, the Thunder paid the highest luxury tax at $61.6 million while the Golden State Warriors were second at $51.5 million. The last time the Nets were over the limit was in the 2014-15 season when they paid $20 million in luxury tax.
The Nets will return to that list of tax paying teams next season in their hopes to retain their core.
They will likely face a bidding war with the Knicks or even the Atlanta Hawks for Harris’ services. Both the Knicks and the Hawks are in rebuilding mode and armed with cap space.
Harris checks all the boxes that the Knicks are looking for.
The former three-point champion was once a reclamation project just like what the Knicks have in their current youngsters. His four-year stay with the Nets and the culture built by GM Sean Marks and their former coach Kenny Atkinson transformed him from a forgotten man into one of the elite role players in the league.
Harris has become a solid three-point threat — 38.5%, 41.9%, 47.4%, and 42.1% in each of his past four seasons with the Nets — and so much more that led to his inclusion in the last Team USA.
New Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau spoke about defense, ball movement, efficiency, and three-point shots as the staples that he wants to inject into the team’s DNA.
Harris definitely fits that profile.
The 29-year sharpshooter could come in and show the way for the younger Knicks players how to become a playoff team.
His defensive win share has steadily increased from 0.2 in his rookie year to 1.8 last season. The stocky guard has shown his willingness to play defense and offers a lot of intangibles more than just his outside shooting. His ability to drive to the basket has become the most underrated part of his game. This past season, Harris made half (50.2 percent) of his 6.5 drives per game.
The Knicks can free up to as much as $50 million in cap space this offseason. And with no marquee stars in the NBA free agency, Harris will be up there along with Toronto Raptors’ Fred Van Vleet and Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic on top of the free-agent list among guards.
This is an opportunity for Harris to leverage his position and earn what could be the biggest contract in his career.
Harris’ agent Mark Bartelstein has negotiated Joe Ingles’ four-year $52-million deal in 2017 and a $14 million one-year extension last year to stay with the Utah Jazz. They could be looking for a similar type of contract with the Nets.
The Knicks could dangle more money and a chance to be a catalyst for the franchise’s turnaround. But the Nets’ likely cheaper offer comes with an immediate shot to contend for a ring with Durant and Irving.
Those options will be there for Harris.
Which will he choose?