Raptors retain Jalen Harris’ RFA rights after reinstatement by NBA

Raptors 905 guard Jalen Harris. (Raptors 905/Twitter)

Jalen Harris, the basketball player who was dismissed and disqualified from the NBA for violating the terms of its anti-drug program in 2021, was reinstated by the league on Tuesday.

The decision makes Harris a restricted free agent, with the Toronto Raptors, the NBA team he most recently played for, holding his rights — though it remains unclear how the Raptors will proceed from here.

The NBA levied its punishment against Harris on July 1, 2021, after he tested positive for a “drug of abuse.” His contract with the Raptors was rendered null and void, and he entered the league’s drugs of abuse program. The drugs the NBA classifies on that list, as detailed by the collective bargaining agreement, are wide-ranging. But the list does not include marijuana or steroids, which have their own classifications.

The specific nature of Harris’ violation was not disclosed publicly.

When a veteran player violates the league’s anti-drug policy, they face, at least, an automatic two-year dismissal. Because Harris was a rookie at the time of his infraction, the length of the dismissal was only one year, after which he could apply for reinstatement.

During his year away from the NBA, Harris remained active on the court, playing in 18 games with Vanoli Cremona, an Italian team in the country’s highest basketball league. He averaged 13.8 points, the most of anyone on his team, while shooting 38.5 per cent from the floor and 29.5 per cent from long range.

Harris recently shone in the Canadian Elite Basketball League as well, playing for the expansion Scarborough Shooting Stars. He had 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists to help secure his team a berth in the final, where Scarborough ultimately fell to the Hamilton Honey Badgers.

The offensive contributions reflected what he showcased in his brief run with Toronto, most notably his final four games. He ended the NBA campaign on a high note, averaging 18.5 points per game in his final four games, including a 31-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks.

Though his reinstatement by the NBA marks a monumental step in his bid to resume his playing career at the highest level, his future with the Raptors — a team already poised to have a fierce battle for spots at training camp — is still to be decided.

Toronto has options. The team could clear either a regular roster spot or a two-way spot, giving Harris the chance to compete for a role in training camp. The Raptors could also make him an Exhibit-10 contract, a non-guaranteed minimum deal that gives the team the right to convert Harris to a two-way contract, keep him on an NBA minimum, or — if he is willing — waive him and provide a bonus to his G League salary if he stays with the organization long enough.

Beyond that, other teams will have the option to extend an offer to Harris as well. However, as a restricted free agent, the Raptors would have the option to match and retain his services.

A former second-round pick out of Nevada, Harris played in 13 games for the Raptors overall in 2020-21, averaging 7.4 points on 50 per cent shooting from the floor and 47.2 per cent shooting from long range, as well as 1.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists while battling injuries and stints in the G League.

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