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.
So Much Promise
This is a heartbreaking turn of events in Harris’s young career. Harris was the 59th pick in the 2020 draft. Harris spent the majority of the season in the G-league but showed potential in his brief stint for the Raptors last season. Through 13 games, he averaged 7.4 points and shot an outstanding 47.2% from the three-point range for Toronto. Harris even dropped a career-high 31 points in a game against his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
He was beginning to look like the Raptors’ next big draft steal. He would have joined the likes of current star Pascal Siakam (pick 27 in 2016) or the undrafted Fred VanVleet. The 6’5″ guard even seemed 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 unfortunate club. Harris is lucky 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.
The specifics of his failed test are not known, but it should be noted that the NBA stopped random testing for Marijuana this season.
Impact on the Raptors
Harris was looking at a $1,489,065 qualifying offer with the Raptors for next season. He was widely expected to remain in Toronto. This offer is now null and void.
What does this mean for the franchise?
They have certainly taken a hit to their backcourt depth. At this point, Toronto essentially has just Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn as the guards 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 during their 2018-19 championship run.
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 standings.
The loss of Harris 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 received a suspension from January 2006 through 2008. Andersen is the lone redemption story on this list. He would come back to remain a popular role player in the league. Andersen even 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 the three-point range. Despite this success, he never received a second chance in the NBA.
Harris, after just 13 games in the league, has violated the trust of his team and the NBA. He showed flashes of explosive talent, including his 31-point career-high. However, he doesn’t have nearly the resume of a Tyreke Evans or 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.
There is certainly nothing positive about the situation Harris has found himself in. However, there is still hope.
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.