Those of you who witnessed the rather fun ride of the Lakers summer league team in Las Vegas probably came way with the impression that Marcus Landry was the best player for the Lakers and likely had the clearest path to training camp and eventually a roster spot. He looked much more polished than several of the other players, fit a direct need as a guy who can switch between both forward spots, and his multifaceted game was an endearing sight amid the sometimes disorganized mess that summer league play usually devolves into. As such, it is rather shocking to see news of this kind come our way from Yahoo! Sports' estimable Adrian Wojnarowski:
Forward Elias Harris has agreed to a two year deal with Lakers, agent Brad Ames tells Y! Deal includes "significant" guarantee in 1st year.
And mind you, this is not necessarily because Harris is a bad choice. Quite to the contrary, yours truly stands by everything that was written about Harris in our summer league recap, namely that Harris' skill set fits very well with Mike D'Antoni's system at either forward spot and his energy, rebounding, and cutting all lend themselves to a good player profile. That noted, Harris has notable flaws, particularly his shooting and ballhandling, each of which was poor to mediocre for most of summer league aside from some flashes, that will make it difficult for him to have an immediate impact in year one, hence why a story of Harris getting the at least immediate nod over Marcus Landry comes as such a shocker.
This is particularly the case since the Lakers see Harris as a developmental project they're going to keep around: you don't give a player a notable amount of guaranteed money if you don't expect him to be on the roster for the upcoming year. In fact, you can probably pencil in Harris for a spot on the 2014 team as well, seeing how that squad will be in dire need of cheap talent after the Lakers start utilizing big chunks of their available cap space. Even if the second year is non-guaranteed just to give the Lakers some cover in case he utterly fails to pan out, you have to imagine that they see him as a potential part of their future.
To get to that point, Harris will have to take a few leaps in his development, particularly the aforementioned shooting. A career 35.6 3P% shooter at Gonzaga, Harris had two years of 45.1% and 41.4% shooting from behind the arc before slumping to a horendous 17% as a senior. Unfortunately, that latter mark seems to be the one that has remained constant, as Harris didn't hit the long ball well until the last game of summer league. That performance did demonstrate what Harris can do when every part of his game is clicking, however, as he takes advantage of bigs who aren't sufficiently quick enough to guard him as he takes the ball to the rim or pulls up for a jumper or wings he can outmuscle in the post.
For Harris, that kind of versatility will be essential to his future prospects, as he can turn the tweener label, normally a black mark on a player, into a positive one by emphasizing the skills that can make him effective at either forward spot. He also will have to figure out how to turn his activity into good defense, as while he cleans up the boards well and does a decent job on switches or traps in the pick-and-roll, straight-up positional defense against fast wings or bigger fours will be tough for him. Nevertheless, that we're talking about Harris in such a multifaceted role indicates what his ceiling was thought to be at one point in his development.
As a freshman, that package of skills was generating noise that he was going to get picked in the first round and the relative stagnation of his game the next few years at Gonzaga thoroughly tanked his stock. As such, give props to Mitch Kupchak for moving when the iron was hot and getting an interesting prospect on the cheap in a year in which the Lakers didn't have a lot of draft picks with which to add young talent. This is what franchises without high picks or financial flexibility do to keep the back end of their roster stocked with talent and it is an area the Lakers have been noticeably poor at as of late. Especially considering that this is basically a lost year until the Lakers clear the books in 2014, it is all the more reason the team should go with someone like Harris as versus a retread veteran like Lamar Odom, all the nostalgia upside in the world notwithstanding.
Even if all Harris does next year is get minutes in the D-League due to all the players ahead of him at both forward spots, this is the kind of move the Lakers should be making in search of talent. They scouted out players that could work in their system, put them all together on their summer league team, and managed to find one that they are willing to invest into long-term. By doing so, they create possible assets from essentially nothing: the Lakers spent no resources in getting Harris aside from the work of their scouts and front office in general. The small financial commitment should be less viewed as what Harris costs the team as the price of scouting and development, as ideally, there should be a rotating door of guys on the third string who are in Harris' current position. If they fail to demonstrate that they belong, they are summarily replaced by the next guy who offers that upside.
This is the probable reason that Harris was given the nod over Landry or Chris Douglas-Roberts, as while both are likely more NBA ready at the moment, they possess less upside over the long-term. Now, that is not a reason for them not to make the team or be given a training camp invite, although now with thirteen players on the roster, only one spot remains for them to claim given the Lakers' preference for carrying one less than the roster limit for flexibility purposes. With Harris in the fold, one has to imagine that CDR has the edge given that his positional versatility at the two and the three was not just made redundant by Harris' presence, as unfortunate as that is for Landry considering how well he played in summer league.
As one can likely discern at this point, Harris has very little to do with the Lakers' fortunes next season. The only way he is getting significant playing time is a catastrophic set of injuries analogous to last year, he vastly exceeds expectations in camp or sometime during the season, or he begins to get minutes after the Lakers dig themselves into a big hole after most of the season is concluded and they see not much better to do than play the young guys and maximize their lottery position. One would hope that in lieu of any of these circumstances, he is one of the mainstays of the Lakers' D-League affiliate and that the team does not repeat the error of having the likes of Darius Morris on the active roster instead of with the D-Fenders when all he was doing was sitting on the bench. Given how well they've handled the bit part of the roster so far this offseason, one has some optimism that they will manage this properly and that it will be a sign of how they operate in the future.
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