By Pete Baxter
With just 13 NBA games under his belt, Jalen Harris will be out of the game at least through the 2022-23 season. Shams Charania broke the news earlier today that the Raptors’ young shooting guard has been “dismissed and disqualified” from the NBA for the 2021-22 season for violating terms of the league’s anti-drug program.
This is a heartbreaking turn of events in Harris’ young career. Harris was the 59th pick in the 2020 draft. After spending the majority of the season in the G-league, he showed promise in his brief stint for the Raptors last season. Through 13 games he averaged 7.4 points and shot an outstanding 47.2% from three-point range for Toronto. He even dropped a career-high 31 points in a game against his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
He showed potential to be the Raptors’ next big draft steal, not unlike current star Pascal Siakam or the undrafted Fred VanVleet. He seemed to be poised to become a consistent rotation player next season, most likely as the second-string shooting guard.
Now, his entire future is a question mark. Harris is just the fourth player ever to be suspended by the NBA for at least one season under the NBA’s anti-drug policy. He joins O.J Mayo, Tyreke Evans and Chris “Birdman” Andersen in this notorious club. Harris is fortunate that, as a first-year player, he will only receive a one-year suspension. Veteran players in their second year or beyond receive an automatic two-year suspension.
While the specifics of his failed test are not known, it should be noted that the NBA stopped random testing for Marijuana this season.
Impact on the Raptors
Harris had a $1,489,065 qualifying offer with the Raptors for next season and was widely expected to remain a Raptor next season. This offer is now void.
What does this mean for Toronto? They have taken a hit to their backcourt depth. At this point they essentially have just Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn as the guards currently on the books for next year. This assumes that Deandre Bembry and Paul Watson are considered forwards.
While it was sure to be a top priority already, re-signing Gary Trent Jr. becomes an absolute necessity. Fortunately, John Hollinger of The Athletic reported this week that league sources widely believe that Trent Jr. will return to Toronto.
The Raptors will then need to shore up additional depth for the backcourt. Without Harris as a safety net, the Raptors may lean towards retaining veteran star Kyle Lowry’s services for another year. They have had success with the dual-point guard lineup of VanVleet plus Lowry, including winning a title. The Raptors, after a brutal 2020-21 season, are certainly looking to contend next year. Keeping Lowry and VanVleet as the starters with Trent Jr. as a potential sixth man of the year candidate could help them get back to the top of the conference.
This may also impact how the Raptors approach the draft. If the Raptors move on from Lowry, along with losing Jalen Harris, it seems almost a lock that they take Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs with the number four pick. Suggs, with his advanced play-making ability, could be a day one starter, or be a dynamo off the bench. Regardless, with Harris out of the picture, it seems to be a guarantee the Raptors address their backcourt in the draft.
Impact on Harris
This is a big deal. Harris seemed to do all the right things in his rookie season. He made the most of his opportunity in the G-League, earning a shot in the NBA by season’s end. He then made the most of his 13-game NBA tryout with the tanking Raptors. Harris seemed poised to be a major rotation piece next season and potentially earn himself a long-term deal. No more.
Let’s take a look at the aforementioned players who have faced long-term suspensions under the NBA’s drug policy:
O.J. Mayo faced a two-year suspension from July 1, 2016. He has never returned to the NBA and is currently playing in China.
Tyreke Evans received a two-year suspension as of May 17, 2019. The jury is still out on whether Evans, now 31 years old, will ever get another opportunity in the NBA.
Chris Andersen was suspended from January 2006 through 2008. Andersen is the lone redemption story so far on this list, as he would come back to remain a popular role player in the league. He won an NBA title with the Miami Heat in 2013.
It is a precarious situation for Jalen Harris. O.J. Mayo was an established NBA player, having started over 300 games for the Grizzlies, Mavericks, and Bucks. He left the league with a career average of 13.8 points and a solid 37% from three-point range. Despite this success, he has never received a second chance in the NBA.
Harris, after just 13 games in the big league, has violated the trust of his team and the league. While he showed flashes of explosive talent, including his 31-point career-high, he doesn’t have nearly the resume of a Tyreke Evans or an O.J. Mayo.
The good news is, Harris is just 22 years old. He will only miss one season. When he returns, the Toronto Raptors and their acclaimed developmental staff will still own his rights. While there is nothing positive about the situation Harris has found himself in, there is still hope to be found.
Will Harris learn and grow from this mistake? Did he show enough in his brief opportunity this season to earn a place in the league in 2022-23? If so, will this opportunity come with the Raptors, or elsewhere?
More to come.