Poor playoff showing likely leaves veteran on outside of Orlando Magic

Gary Harris stood in as the Orlando Magic's prime shooter from deep. But he proved too ineffective even as a low-usage fifth starter to make a difference.
The Orlando Magic treasured Gary Harris for his steady play on both ends. But his rough postseason likely signals he is on the way out.
The Orlando Magic treasured Gary Harris for his steady play on both ends. But his rough postseason likely signals he is on the way out. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic's offseason has arrived. And it is generally one filled with optimism.

The Magic had a strong playoff run, falling in Game 7 of the first round after a 47-win season. It was a breakthrough season. And now the Magic have cap room to spend this offseason. They are expected to spend at least one big contract to add a starter-level player.

That does mean that several players are likely going to be cycled out. The Magic will have some tough decisions to make over several key players. The team is not going to return intact even if Jeff Weltman wants to emphasize continuity within his team.

Change is inevitable. And the Orlando Magic have to learn their lessons from their Playoff defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It leads to one of the more inevitable decisions for the offseason. The Magic need to find some help and consistency at guard. They need more to support Jalen Suggs in the backcourt. And it likely means Gary Harris has played his last game with the Magic.

Gary Harris was a solid veteran but came up short in the 2024 season

The Orlando Magic saw Gary Harris as a valuable veteran and floor spacer. Players always credited him for his steady play. Harris was nothing but consistent.

Even in a relatively down year — Harris averaged 6.9 points per game (the fewest since his rookie year) and shot 37.1 percent from three on 3.8 attempts per game— Harris' 3-point shooting was valuable. The team needed his steady presence in the locker room. Giving up a solid veteran with his reputation is always difficult.

But there was no denying how short he fell in the Playoffs.

Harris took the brunt of criticism from fans throughout the series against the Cleveland Cavaliers after averaging just 4.2 points per game and shooting 7 for 22 (31.8 percent) from three. That is just not the support the Magic needed from their supposed 3-and-D sharpshooter, even if his defense was decent.

In Game 1, Harris' scoreless effort on 0-for-5 shooting in 30-plus minutes stood out. It was the same story in a critical Game 5 where Harris left the game in the second half with a right hamstring strain. He went scoreless again, missing all three of his shots.

Harris was speaking about himself as much as his teammates when he talked about the team's poor shooting at the beginning of the series. It just never got better.

"I got some looks that I just need to knock down," Harris said after shootaround before Game 2. "We knock down a few more shots that game could have gone either way. We had a five-point game in the third quarter, where you hit a three to cut it to two and it could go either way. Just continue to get open looks and be ready to step up and shoot them with confidence and knock them down."

The Magic never found that rebound and never were never able to find consistency from deep. And one of their best 3-point shooters never got himself going. His poor scoring performances stood out.

Gary Harris struggled in the Playoffs, but made a positive impact on the Orlando Magic

Gary Harris' postseason showings hurt.

Harris' role is to be a shooter first and foremost. His misses on a team that struggled to shoot hurt double.

The team knows how important his defense is too. That was the other part of his role. And that stood out on a strong defensive team.

He is a solid defender, but not necessarily a stone-cold stopper -- in all, Mitchell scored just 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting (and 0 for 6 from three) when Harris was matched up with him according to data from NBA.com.

That was valuable and important for the Magic. They understood that implicitly.

"What he always brings, picking up 94, making it hard on the opposing backcourt," Paolo Banchero said after shootaround before Game 6. "He just brings a unique blend of strength as a guard, but quickness, hand speed and all that stuff. He's a seasoned vet. He's guarded the best of the best. Some of the guys that were at the top of the game in their primes a couple of years ago, he's guarded all them. He has that experience and brings it every night."

Despite the concerns about his shooting and his shot volume, he was a positive factor throughout the series and in the season.

During the regular season, the Magic had a 113.6 offensive rating with Harris on the floor, the best mark among regular starters. The team had a 110.3 defensive rating and so that +3.3 net rating ranked fourth among the team's rotation players.

There is no denying it that Harris may not have had the ball a lot or taken a lot of shots, but he had a positive impact on the team's spacing and offense.

Even in the Playoffs, the Magic won the minutes Harris played at +2.8 points per 100 possessions (no doubt skewed by blowout wins in Games 3 and 4 as all stats in the series were skewed). In the Magic's four losses, the team lost Harris' minutes by 4.7 points per 100 possessions with a 93.7 offensive rating.

That does not all fall on Harris' shoulders. But undoubtedly one of the Magic's few playoff veterans did not perform in the team's playoff series. They needed his shooting and it was not there.

That previews his ultimate decision as he hits free agency.

The Orlando Magic valued Gary Harris for his steadiness, is that enough?

The Orlando Magic value Gary Harris for his steadiness. But the Playoffs showed how much the Magic were missing with a low-usage, low-volume shooter at shooting guard.

It is among the many reasons the Magic are not just looking to add a shooter to the roster, but are looking to add a high-volume shooter like Malik Monk (5.9 3-point attempts per game last year), Klay Thompson (9.0 3-point attempts per game), Paul George (7.9 3-point attempts per game) or Tyus Jones (3.9 3-point attempts per game).

The Magic need not only someone who can hit from the outside. But someone who is a threat to take multiple threes and be a threat to shoot even when they are off the ball.

Even at his low volume, Harris' ability to shoot had some value. That may be what the Magic are looking to expand.

"Him taking them helps regardless," Paolo Banchero said after the Orlando Magic's win over the Toronto Raptors on March 17. "Whether he is making or missing shots, you know what you are going to get from Gary. he is going to defend. He is going to make the right play. He has a great feel for the game and feel for situations. He knows how to get guys the ball. He knows how to set guys up. And on top of that, he makes shots."

Everyone knows the Magic need shooting. That is ultimately what Harris is supposed to provide. His value is directly tied to his ability to make shots. And as one of the few shooters on the roster, his misses seemed to hurt double.

But nobody should move to dismiss Harris so quickly. His veteran presence meant something to the Magic.

"Gary is just steady," coach Jamahl Mosley said after the Orlando Magic's win over the Brooklyn Nets on March 13. "Every time he steps in the ball game, you know what you're going to get. His ability to pick up full court changed the way they defend. He fights over screens. He's extremely physical. He spaces the floor and guys trust him when they pass to him that he will step in and make the shot."

Gary Harris is a free agent this offseason and likely is not a priority for the Orlando Magic

In the end, the idea of Gary Harris probably makes more sense than the player he is at this point. Harris has struggled with injuries throughout his career. And the Orlando Magic did not intend to start him from the beginning of the season.

Jalen Suggs won the starting 2-guard spot from him and never let go. Gary Harris only rose into the starting lineup because of injuries to Markelle Fultz and at point guard.

Harris is likely too low-volume to be a feasible starter for this team. The things he is good at he does not do enough for where the Magic are growing. They need a ball-handler and creator in that spot too.

That will at minimum push Harris to the bench if the Magic retain him. At most it means Harris' time with the Magic is done. He certainly will not get the same $13 million salary he received this year.

"I've enjoyed my time here ever since I stepped foot in Orlando," Gary Harris said at the team's exit interviews. "I don't know what free agency holds. I'll take it one day at a time. I loved my time here, love my teammates. I feel like we can do something very special. So we'll see where it goes."

But the playoffs showed both Harris' limitations and how he struggles to help the Magic overcome their offensive limitations. And it showed the Magic have to make some tweaks. And that will start with their veteran and at shooting guard.

The Magic are aiming to win in the Playoffs now. They value Harris' steadiness. But they need results too. And that is what is at stake now for the magic as they look ahead to free agency.