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After a down year, Devin Harris’ future with the Mavs is uncertain

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Devin’s numbers were down across the board this season, but he can still help the team in a smaller role. Will they bring him back?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Back

Entering his 13th season, and 8th total season in Dallas, the front office knew what they had in Devin Harris. A natural point guard who had been playing the two due to a surplus of guards, Harris came into the season as a steady veteran poised to provide leadership and timely play. His steady presence was important to a roster of perpetual overhaul after the departures of players like Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia made way for the additions of Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut.

As has been the case for most his career, injuries played a key role in Harris’ season. He injured his left foot in the preseason finale and missed the first 16 games of the season, which ended up being a huge improvement after originally being told he might miss the entire year.

Harris averaged 6.7 points, 2 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 65 games this season, which are all considerably below his career marks. While injuries contributed to his below par performance, Harris also found minutes hard to come by behind spectacular play from Deron Williams, Seth Curry and Yogimania.

Harris’ season is best looked at through two perspectives: pre-all-star break Devin and post-all-star break Devin. Before the break, Harris was shooting a paltry 36 percent from the field and 32 percent from three. Obviously, it took some time for Harris, who turned 34 during the season, to shake off the rust and get his legs under him. After the break, Harris’ shooting improved to 45 percent inside the arc and 33 percent from deep.

Post-all-star break Devin also had a new toy to play with once the Mavericks traded for Nerlens Noel. Over the years, coach Rick Carlisle’s high-powered offensive schemes have often made use of Harris operating with a long, athletic big (think Brandan Wright). Harris’ drive-and-kick or penetrate-and-score game benefited from the geometry Noel created when he was on the floor. Per nbawowy, Harris scored 1.20 points per shot with Noel on the floor, compared to only 1.07 points per shot with Noel off the floor. Toward the end of the season Harris showed glimpses of the player he was during his first Mavericks tenure.

Looking at the entire season out of context, it might look like Harris had a down year. While the surface level stats might agree, Harris actually had a quietly solid year. If players like Pierre Jackson and DeAndre Liggins are excluded (their combined playing time with the Mavs was shorter in length than Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries’ marriage), you’ll see Harris’ plus/minus rating of 1.7 led the team. He also sported the highest net rating on the team at 2.1, meaning the Mavs outscored teams by 2.1 points per 100 possessions while Harris was on the floor. Harris’ true shooting percentage (TS% considers field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages) of 54.9 percent was second only to Curry’s 60.1 percent for Mavs guards, and his 105.5 offensive rating was second highest on the team behind Noel’s 106.1 offensive rating.

Contract

Harris just completed the third year of the four-year, $16 million contract he signed in 2014. Since his contract includes a team option on the fourth year, the Mavs’ front office has the choice to pick up that option and have Harris count $4.4 million against the cap, or the team can decline it making Harris an unrestricted free agent.

Looking Forward

Harris’ future depends on whether the team picks up his option. Harris said in his exit interview that the team has not given him any indication on the direction it is headed. “It’s a team option,” Harris said. “The ball is in their court.” However, it seems likelier that the team would let Harris go than opt to bring him back for the last year of his deal. This season made is clear that Dallas is focused on becoming younger, and J.J. Barea is already under contract for next season in the “veteran small guard” role. On top of that, Mark Cuban has been on record saying the team will be looking for a point guard in the off-season, whether that is through the draft or free agency. With Barea, Curry, Yogi Ferrell, Wesley Matthews and a rookie/free agent addition, the backcourt will be crowded enough without bringing back Harris.

I think the only way you’ll see the Mavs pick up the option on Harris would be if they have any desire to move Matthews. Harris would be able to soak up a lot of Matthews’ minutes at shooting guard, and his option is quite affordable for the team. This is the healthiest Harris has been going into the offseason in the past few seasons, and he proved he could be an effective guard toward the end of the season. His chemistry with Noel will continue to grow, and he’s a veteran that has established rapport with Dirk Nowitzki. He remains a reliable option to make a timely shot or draw a key charge in a smaller role, but no longer has the ability to impact the game more than that.

Ultimately, if the Mavericks are committed to getting younger, Harris does not fit into the team’s future plans. He’s 34 years old with a lengthy injury history. However, Harris proved this year he still has some gas left in the tank and can be a serviceable role player when his number is called.