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Lakers Should Make Run at Tobias Harris in Free Agency

After two straight seasons of the Los Angeles Lakers attempting to patchwork the small-forward position together, it’s time to roll the dice on acquiring Orlando Magic restricted free agent Tobias Harris as the club looks to rebuild its roster.

The last time the Lakers had a small forward worth talking about on the roster, Metta World Peace was still called Ron Artest. Here’s a sampling of names that have graced the position over the last two tumultuous seasons in Los Angeles: Xavier Henry, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Shawne Williams and Elias Harris. Woof.

Now armed with the chance to expedite their rebuild with a healthy Julius Randle, the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming June draft, cap space to spend and the surprise emergence of last season’s second-round pick Jordan Clarkson, Tobias Harris could give a restored meaning to the Purple & Gold’s No. 12 uniform. More importantly, Harris would give the Lakers a player they sorely need as a still-developing, two-way wing capable of playing either forward position. Given Randle’s evolving range and versatility, a frontline featuring Harris, Randle and either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor—the projected top two draft picks—could help to turn around the Lakers’ fortunes in swift fashion.

From Bleacher Report’s Alec Nathan:

But check this out: Harris also finished as one of six players to average at least 17 points, six rebounds and a steal. Those are admittedly arbitrary cutoff points, but it’s still an impressive club to reside in considering the other five members were Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins and Carmelo Anthony.

Without a doubt, that’s a nice list to belong to, but Harris’s role would be different in Los Angeles than it was in Orlando. And for a Lakers team that finished 29th in the league on defense while giving up 108 points per 100 possessions, Harris needs to show better on the defensive end to make him worth the investment.

From the same B/R piece:

The bigger question is if Harris can make similar strides on defense. During the 2014-15 slate, Orlando was 3.8 points worse per 100 defensive possessions with Harris on the floor. The 106.7 defensive rating they recorded during those 2,369 minutes would have equated to the league’s fourth-worst overall.

If signed, Harris would become a veteran on a Lakers team filled with kids. That’s an unknown role for him at the NBA level, and it’s one that comes with a different set of expectations—especially when Kobe Bryant is your teammate. And if signed, Harris is going to be coming in at a steep price. The Magic aren’t just going to let him walk in restricted free agency, and it’s likely going to take an offer perceived as an overpay to lure T-12 to the West Coast.

According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, that could  mean offering Harris north of $13 million annually:

There have been a number of teams linked to Harris including the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and even Atlanta Hawks. The Magic have the means to match anything offered to Harris in free agency. Given where the salary cap is headed, the Magic have to spend money and pretty soon they may have a hard time reaching the salary floor given where they are at in guaranteed money. The belief is that the Magic would match almost anything under $13 million a season, the question is will Harris get an offer sheet worth more than that number in July and will the Magic budge off their price range?

Although Magic general manager Rob Hennigan is on the record stating that the team intends to re-sign Harris “no matter what,” it’s difficult to envision a youthful Orlando team being rebuilt around its dynamic backcourt combination of Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton as well as center Nikola Vucevic handing out big cash to Harris. And considering the size of the void Harris could fill in Los Angeles, the Lakers may very well be motivated to make a competitive offer. One complicating factor is Harris’s restricted status since teams generally don’t enjoy having their available cap space tied up in a waiting game, but the Lakers could avoid that issue by striking early on Harris if the front office is sold on bringing him aboard.

With Harris and Randle potentially anchoring a frontcourt in an NBA placing an increased emphasis on shooting from the forward positions, the Lakers could help to address one of their biggest sore spots. Los Angeles was in the bottom fifth of teams in terms of three-pointers attempted per game (18.9) and converted those at just a 34.4 percent rate, a number just good enough to avoid being associated with the word ‘putrid.’

The Lakers are going to have a tough time extracting assets on the trade market without a big stack of chips at the poker table. No matter what rhetoric is spewed over the next few weeks, Mitch Kupchak isn’t trading Los Angeles’ No. 2 pick unless a deal emerges from Aladdin’s magic lamp. And because of that, this is a team that’s going to have to be uber-aggressive with their free agent offers.

It’s been two full seasons since the Lakers have had a respectable roster. In Kobe’s final season, it’s time to change that, and after coming off a franchise-worst campaign that saw a proud, historic franchise lose 61 basketball games, making a play for Harris would send an emphatic message that the Lakers are ready to get back in business.

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