Brooklyn Nets: Tobias Harris trade could hit team’s free agency plans

Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

The middle-of-the-night trade of Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers could have ramifications for the Brooklyn Nets’ free agency plans.

One of the worst-kept secrets in the NBA has been the strength with which the Brooklyn Nets covet Long Island native and free-agent-to-be Tobias Harris.

Harris was a prep star at Half Hollow Hills West High School in Dix Hills and after the LA Clippers came into Brooklyn in mid-November and laid a 127-119 loss on the Nets behind 27 points and eight rebounds from Harris, Brian Lewis of the New York Post delved into the relationship between the Clippers star and Nets coach Kenny Atkinson — another Long Island native.

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Harris wouldn’t speculate about coming to Brooklyn in the offseason, but acknowledged the connections to Atkinson.

"“His brother [Steve] coached at my high school. He coached my little brother [Tyler]. They have a big family, a couple of times I ran into another one of the brothers he has. It’s not the biggest place. I know coach Kenny.”"

Atkinson had nothing but praise for Harris at the time.

"“He just hit a lot of tough shots. … I thought Tobias, we did a pretty good job. But he hit some really tough shots. Excellent player. That’s one thing about Tobias: He just keeps getting better.”"

But any plans the Nets might have had to acquire Harris to fill that gigantic gaping hole at power forward might have taken a substantial hit early Wednesday morning when the Clippers shipped Harris along with Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott to the Philadelphia 76ers for Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and a bushel basket of draft picks including Miami’s much-valued first-round selection.

To put it bluntly, Philadelphia general manager Elton Brand did not give up four picks and a first-rounder from the last draft in Shamet to rent Harris for two months or so.

And by acquiring him now, the 76ers put themselves in the lead in the clubhouse to sign Harris this summer, given they own his Bird rights and can offer Harris an extra year and, thus, the largest available contract.

That does not mean all is lost for the Nets, it just means the hill to climb to get Harris’ name on a contract this summer got a lot higher.

Another potential Nets target to fill that spot in the lineup could be restricted free agent Kristaps Porzingis, but that potential pursuit got more complicated late last week when the New York Knicks surprised many by cutting ties with their one-time future centerpiece and traded him to the Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas owner Mark Cuban went all-in after the trade, immediately comparing the as-yet-to-play-together duo of Porzingis and rookie Luka Doncic to another high-powered international pairing the Mavericks once had.

Per Marc Stein’s New York Times newsletter, Cuban admitted a mistake he made more than a decade ago and vowed not to repeat it.

"“It was my mistake not to keep Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash together longer. I won’t make the same mistake with Luka and KP.”"

As the 76ers did with Harris, Cuban and the Mavericks acquired Porzingis’ Bird rights in the trade and can offer him an extra year and the extra cash that goes with that.

There will be other potential fits available in free agency — nearly half the players in the league are either on expiring contracts or have player options for next season they can decline to jump into what is shaping up to be a lucrative summer for players seeking new deals.

And for as much as Brooklyn fans would love to see general manager Sean Marks make a deal before Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline to acquire a legitimate stretch 4, it’s hard to imagine him deviating from the plan he has in place.

Getting a player such as Nikola Mirotic from the New Orleans Pelicans or Dario Saric from the Minnesota Timberwolves or Marvin Williams from the Charlotte Hornets would likely require not just the player or players necessary to make the money work, but also an asset such as a first-round pick.

Brooklyn went through five years of draft purgatory after former GM Billy King’s ultimately futile maneuvering in 2012 and 2013 to make the Nets into a title contender and it’s hard to envision a scenario short of a blockbuster to bring in a player such as Kevin Durant from the Golden State Warriors or Anthony Davis from the Pelicans that would induce Marks into giving up one of those precious picks the Nets now have.

Even with the flurry of deals made Wednesday night, there wasn’t a lot of salary beyond this season on the move, with the notable exception of the Chicago Bulls sending the expiring contract of Bobby Portis and their $20 million team option on Jabari Parker to the Washington Wizards.

In that trade, Chicago added Otto Porter, who is still owed $55.74 million over the next two years (Porter holds a $28.49 million player option for 2020-21) on the four-year, $106.5 million offer sheet he signed with Brooklyn in July 2017 that the Wizards ultimately matched.

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The Nets could still end up with their man in Harris. But not without stiff competition from the 76ers because, again, Philadelphia didn’t give up three players and four picks to rent Harris for a couple of months and a playoff run.