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Free agency awaits Gary Harris, who is enjoying his time with Magic

Gary Harris did not begin the season as a starter for the Magic.

But in the final phase of the year and in the NBA playoffs, the experienced guard, when able to play, became an important building block for Orlando's success.

Harris appeared in 54 games and started 27 of them, including 21 after the league's All-Star break. He started all 6 games against the Cavs in the East's first round, missing one due to a strained right thigh.

Not only did he bring critical composure to one of the NBA's youngest teams with 28 playoff games under his belt in the postseason, he also helped a team that lacked three-point shooting gain more space and provided quality defense on the perimeter.

Harris sank 37.1% of his shots from beyond the three-point line during the regular season and averaged nearly a full steal per game (0.9) while starting alongside Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter Jr.

“For us, the goal is to get back into the playoffs, where a lot of guys are getting their first playoff experience, to reach a seventh game and play at the highest level. And we accomplished that,” Harris said recently.

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The Magic guard enters the summer as an unrestricted free agent after signing a two-year, $26 million contract extension in 2022. Orlando originally acquired him from Denver in 2021 and re-signed him before making his $13 million contract fully guaranteed for 2023-24.

Another contract extension with Harris would be a sign that the Magic believe in what Harris has to offer when he is healthy.

At times, he was Orlando's leading 3-point shooter (he made 43.1% of his threes in the 2022-23 season, the highest percentage on his team), which means teams have to respect his presence on the court even when his long-range shots aren't hitting.

However, he has missed a significant amount of time due to injuries and is not getting any younger as he enters his 11th year in the league when he turns 30 in September.

Harris missed 28 games due to injury, including five (Nov. 4-14) due to a right groin strain, 16 games (Dec. 27-29, Jan. 5-31) due to a right calf strain, three (Feb. 14, Feb. 25, March 6) while resting a right calf injury, two (March 23-27) due to a right plantar fascia strain and two (March 30, April 10) while resting the right plantar fascia.

This resulted in him averaging the fewest points (6.9) in his fewest minutes played (24.0) since his rookie season (3.4 points in 13.1 minutes) in 2014–15.

Still, the Magic finished 35-19 with Harris this year, but 12-16 without him.

“I mean, injuries are part of it,” he said. “I've had to deal with a lot of injuries throughout my career. Of course they suck, but the training staff has done a great job of helping me the whole time to get back in shape as quickly as possible and even allow me to play in Game 7 again.”

“It's just part of it and you can't think about it too much,” he added.[I] just enjoying the time I had with the team this year.”

Harris praised the Magic in his farewell interview at the end of the season, reflecting on his four years with the franchise, but is unsure about his future.

“I've enjoyed my time here since I've been in Orlando,” he said. “I love it. I have nothing but good things to say about it.”

“I don’t know what free agency will bring,” he added.[I will] I'm just taking it one day at a time, but I'm enjoying my time here. I love my teammates. I feel like we can build something really special, so we'll just see where it goes.”

The day after the last game of the NBA Finals, each team in the league can begin negotiating with the future free agents who finished the season just ended on their roster. This could be as early as June 15 (the day after Game 4 of the Finals) or as late as June 24 (the day after possible Game 7 of the Finals).

On June 30, teams can negotiate with all other upcoming free agents (beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET), and on July 6, teams can begin signing free agents (12:01 p.m. ET).

Harris views Orlando – both the organization and the city – as an attractive location for free agents and says he has also enjoyed his time off the court beyond his daily work there.

“We have a state-of-the-art facility. The weather is great. We have a great coaching staff,” he said. “There's just a lot of positive things happening here in Orlando and it's a season where there's a little bit of excitement around this team right now.”

That excitement, sparked by the franchise's first playoff appearance in four years, could intensify if the Magic find their way back to the playoffs.

And Harris could help them achieve that goal if he stays in Orlando.

“We've had some pretty big games and some pretty big moments, especially for some of the young players in this league,” Harris said. “They've grown exponentially and they're only going to continue to grow, especially this offseason.”

“This is a functioning team,” he added. “You know the guys are going to come back, you know they're going to get better, you know they're going to study film. … The guys want it and I don't think anyone is happy. That's the best thing about this team. It shows that the sky can be the limit.”

Jason Beede can be reached at jbeede@orlandosentinel.com.

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