Harris Thrilled to Be Back With Magic
By John Denton
July 14, 2015
ORLANDO – Walking through a Long Island grocery store recently with brothers Tyler, Torrel Jr. and Terry, Tobias Harris got a phone call from his father that undoubtedly changed his life forever. Harris’ reaction upon hearing that he had secured a long-term contract extension with the Orlando Magic produced a joyous response heard throughout the marketplace.
``It was super emotional. I was in the grocery store with my brothers and my father called me and told me that the deal was done. I just jumped on my brother with excitement and he was like, `What are you doing?’’’ Harris said on Tuesday just after his contract extension with the Magic was finalized. ``I told them, `We did it! We did it!’ They were super excited for me.’’
From the end of last season and all throughout the summer, Magic GM Rob Hennigan said repeatedly that he couldn’t envision a scenario where the franchise didn’t retain the high-scoring forward. On Tuesday, the Magic’s intent on keeping Harris around for the foreseeable future came to fruition. Harris, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday on Wednesday, has played 2 ½ of his four NBA seasons in Orlando and the contract extension means that he will remain in Magic pinstripes for the foreseeable future.
Affectionately known to his family, friends and teammates as ``All Business’’ because of his laser-like focus and no-nonsense approach to basketball, Harris said that he was so unaffected by the new contract that he was back in the gym the next day for an early-morning sweat session. Father Torrel, who also doubled as Harris’ agent throughout the negotiations, joked that his son was even in the gym for a late-night workout the night before finalizing a deal with the Magic.
Deeply religious and easily one of the Magic’s most professional players on and off the floor, Tobias vowed that the contract extension won’t detract from his focus or his work ethic.
``My thing ever since I came in the NBA is making sure it’s not about how much money I make, but instead it being about the love of the game,’’ Harris said. ``I love this game and that’s why I continue to work.
``When we had the deal done and had agreed to the terms I was in the gym the next day,’’ Harris continued. ``For me, it’s good to have that excitement (over the contract) for a day, but it was about getting back to work. With that (contract) much is expected. It’s not added pressure on myself, but I want our team to be successful and I want our city and our fans to enjoy our games and to see us be a great team. That’s where my biggest motivation is.’’
Harris entered the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that he could have signed an offer sheet with any other team. Orlando would have had the right to match that deal to retain the forward – something that was almost a certainty considering how much the Magic value Harris’ all-around game on the court and his leadership off of it. Harris never signed an offer sheet with another team and he and the Magic came to an agreement just days into the free-agent courting process.
``Tobias is a critical part of the team. He’s been that way since his arrival and he’ll continue to be that way,’’ Hennigan said. ``We’re very excited to know that we have Tobias in the fold here for several years to come. He’ll continue to be an important member of the team and we see him continuing to grow with the rest of our guys.’’
The retention of Harris allows the Magic to keep together a dynamic, young core that includes center Nikola Vucevic, shooting guard Victor Oladipo, point guard Elfrid Payton, guard Evan Fournier and forward Aaron Gordon. Add to that mix new coach Scott Skiles, No. 5 draft pick Mario Hezonja and free-agent additions C.J. Watson and Jason Smith and the Magic feel like they have the athleticism and talent in place to make major strides this season.
``Our team has to take steps in the right direction and we have to crank it up a notch this upcoming season and be ready,’’ Harris said. ``We have to be focused on taking the next leap as a team.’’
In other news on Tuesday, the Magic dealt small forward Maurice Harkless to the Portland Trail Blazers for a conditional second-round draft pick. Orlando acquired the 6-foot-9 Harkless on Aug. 10, 2012 as part of the four-team, 12-plyaer deal that involved Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bynum and Arron Afflalo. In three seasons with the Magic, Harkless – who had fallen out of favor and behind several other wing players on the roster – appeared in 201 games (104 starts) and averaged 6.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.08 steals.
Harris played for Skiles in Milwaukee during the 2011-12 and ‘12-13 seasons before he was traded to the Magic in the J.J. Redick transaction. Skiles pushed for the Bucks to trade for Harris on draft night in 2011, but the 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward struggled to get on the floor then because he was behind veteran players Mike Dunleavy and Luc Mbah a Moute. Harris saw action in 42 games as a rookie and 32 games as a second-year player before he was dealt to Orlando in February of 2013.
At the time of his May 29 hiring with the Magic, Skiles said that he and Harris have a strong bond that has included them staying in contact long after both left Milwaukee. Skiles echoed those sentiments on Tuesday and said that Harris has made great strides in his development as a player because of his willingness to work on his game.
``He’s a really good player and a really good person and you don’t want to let those guys go,’’ Skiles said. ``He plays multiple positions, he can shoot all the way out to the three and he can post people up. The guy averaged over 17 points a game, so we’re glad to have him back.
``He’s gotten better because Tobias works,’’ Skiles contined. ``He was a worker from the beginning. Generally, when guys are willing to put in the time that (Harris) puts in, they are going to get better.’’
Added Harris: ``We have a great relationship. Coach Skiles, I loved playing for him. In Milwaukee, I was a young player and I didn’t get the time that everybody expected, but that comes with the territory. I’ve always said that (Skiles) is a coach who taught me a great defensive system and he really helped my career by learning from him. And when I got over here from Milwaukee, I had a good base. It’s going to be great to play for him again and I’m a different player than I was. Just us two together is going to be a great combination.’’
During his 2 ½ seasons with the Magic, Harris has been a pillar in the Central Florida community with his charitable work with those individuals in need. Harris has won the Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award each of the past two seasons for his work throughout Central Florida. This past season, Harris was a finalist for the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award.
``Tobias is extremely excited about being back with the Magic because this is where he wanted to be and this is where we put our emphasis,’’ Torrel Harris said on Tuesday. ``The money wasn’t as much a factor as him liking the (Magic) organization. He turned down money (from other teams) because he wanted to be a part of the Orlando Magic.’’
Harris turned somewhat of a corner on the floor this past season, becoming more of the complete player that the Magic asked him to be. In addition to averaging a career-best 17.1 points per game, Harris also set career highs in assists (1.8 apg.), steals (1.01 spg.) and 3-point shooting (36.4 percent). Harris hit 87 3-point shots last season – more than double of his previous high of 34 in the 2012-13 season that he split between Milwaukee and Orlando.
``Tobias works incredibly hard at his craft and that’s one of the things that we really value and like about Tobias,’’ Hennigan said. ``The improvements that he made last year, our vision and our hope is that it will continue to snowball and he’ll continue to show improvement year after year. Was it surprising (the he improved so much)? No, because we fully understand how hard Tobias works and we get to see it every day. Our expectation is that it will continue.’’
Harris also showed evolution in his game in terms of being a clutch scorer. He buried game-winning jump shots on Nov. 5 at Philadelphia and on Dec. 13 against Atlanta to lift the Magic to victories. Combined with his buzzer-beating dunk against Oklahoma City in February of 2014, Harris has more game-winning shots (three) than anybody in a Magic uniform the past two decades.
He scored a career-best 34 points against the Lakers in February, twice grabbed 16 boards in a game, set a personal high with five steals in November and he tied an individual high with six assists in February. He topped the 20-point mark 21 times and led the team in scoring 20 times, in rebounding 11 times and in assists three times.
Those stats pale in comparison to what it would mean to Harris to help lead the Magic back into the playoffs for the first time since 2012. He thinks that after three seasons of building that the Magic have enough maturity and talent to become a threat in the Eastern Conference.
``It’s about trying to get to the playoffs, something that I haven’t reached in my time in the NBA. That’s something that I want to get to,’’ he said. ``It was hard for me to watch this past season’s playoffs. I know with our team and our coach and the direction that we’re going, I know that we’re going to make good things happen.’’