Denver Nuggets: Is a Gary Harris reunion realistic?

Will Barton #5 of the Denver Nuggets and Gary Harris #14 of the Orlando Magic talk during free throws at Ball Arena on 14 Feb. 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Ethan Mito/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images)
Will Barton #5 of the Denver Nuggets and Gary Harris #14 of the Orlando Magic talk during free throws at Ball Arena on 14 Feb. 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Ethan Mito/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images) /

As the Denver Nuggets enter the 2022 offseason, it’s clear that they need help on the wing. With an old friend on the free agent market, is it realistic to expect a Gary Harris reunion?

Gary Harris was traded, among other things, for Aaron Gordon at the 2021 trade deadline. Harris had been essential in the growth of this Nuggets squad but after a few down seasons and injury issues, he wasn’t playing up to his salary expectations.

This trade also came at a different time in the Western Conference. It seems foreign right now, but two seasons full seasons ago, it didn’t seem like anyone was going to get through the West without passing LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard.

The trade gave Denver an answer for these bigger forwards and it also opened up playing time for some of the more effective players like P.J. Dozier or Monte Morris.

Fast forward to this offseason and Gary has recouped some of the value he had before being traded. He averaged 11.1 points per game in 61 games for the Magic and shot 38 percent from the 3-point line on five attempts per game.

Not only was he serviceable as a 3-and-D guard, he was one of the lone veterans on a tanking Orlando team. Now, that wouldn’t usually be a compliment but for Harris to shoot this effectively from behind the arc on a team with below-average playmakers is rather impressive.

Additionally, Denver addressed their ‘big forward’ issue with the AG trade but unfortunately (or maybe a result of poor planning), the West is littered with smaller guards and Denver hasn’t had an answer to high volume guard scorers two playoffs in a row now. Last season, the Nuggets fell to the Phoenix Suns who employ Devin Booker and Chris Paul while this season, Denver had no answer for the incendiary scoring from Steph Curry and Jordan Poole.

If the Nuggets can sign Gary Harris, they’ll have two ideal defenders and play finishers in their starting lineup alongside the big three of Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr., and Jamal Murray. Gordon has proven he’s an effective 3-point shooter this season alongside Jokic and Harris had possibly the best chemistry with the Serbian with their incredible full-court outlet passes.

How exactly could the Denver Nuggets sign Gary Harris?

It seems a bit unfair that a team could trade away one of its key players before just re-signing them in the offseason as with Harris and AG. There is a rule in the collective bargaining agreement that says a team cannot require a player they trade away until the following offseason. Since Gary was traded in the middle of the 2020-21 season, the “end of the season” was last offseason.

So it’s legal, but how about his contract. Gary is finishing up a four-year, $84 million extension he signed in the 2017 offseason and with two players on their max (Jamal and MPJ) and Jokic likely re-signing for his max, the Nuggets won’t be able to afford Harris if he wants anywhere near that figure.

Gary Harris shouldn’t command that much this offseason. For all the praise I gave him in his most recent season, it does come off the end of several seasons underperforming his deal and injury issues.

If this Denver team is willing to dip into the luxury tax for the first time in over a decade, something Tim Connelly recently said ownership is willing to do, the Nuggets will have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception worth $5.89 million this offseason.

Harris is probably worth more than that but the injury concerns are exactly that: concerning.

On top of that, Gary Harris is familiar with Denver’s system and would slide right into the starting lineup, finishing what he started at the start of his career.

After the 2021-22 trade deadline, John Hollinger, The Athletic theorized that Harris might even be a buyout candidate for the Nuggets before Orlando decided to keep him until the offseason. He wasn’t reporting that either side was interested but it got pretty spicy when you could clearly see Jokic asking if he was coming back in a regular season game.

Denver Nuggets fans didn’t get to see it happen this past season, but maybe all they needed was patience.

If not Harris, then Connelly has to be looking at the way this roster lost in the playoffs and at least looking at addressing this position. Out of every free agent, there’s no player who knows how to succeed with the Denver Nuggets more than a former Denver Nugget.

Which of the veterans will return this offseason?. dark. Next