I really believe that Justin Harper makes Brandon Bass and/or Ryan Anderson expendable right this second. Keep in mind, I'm riding the assumption that Otis Smith will sign Justin to a multi-year contract in the next week. That's key because Bass will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and Ryan Anderson will be a restricted free agent as well in the upcoming offseason. Odds are if Otis wants to make a trade this month to improve the roster in trying to retain Dwight, one of those two power forwards will have to be packaged. That leaves a lot of court time for the Richmond Spider product who has more than paid his rookie dues playing in France. This Magic franchise needs to drop a lot of salary, and it's in Stan Van Gundy's best interest to make sure Justin produces off the bench.
Harper didn't have cash reserves to sit on during the work stoppage. Justin already looked like an intelligent and humble kid, but his Strasbourg experience has made Harper not just a better all-around player, but a grown man as well. Coach Vincent Collet showed no preferential treatment to the 22-year-old, and was never shy to call out Justin on bad shot selection or defensive lapses. Harper may have started at PF, but he experienced a fair amount of minutes at both the small forward and even center positions. There's a lot of banging around and player position battles in the Pro A league. France was the perfect crash course to toughen up a potentially studly second round draft pick.
When we last left our 6'9" power forward, #5 was making a push for French All-Star accolades being listed on his resume. I'm estimating that Harper was notified of the end of the NBA Lockout no earlier than 6 hours before his crucial match with ASVEL had begun. That may be a good enough excuse for him having a weak outing. Strasbourg finally lost at home, 74-80. The video highlights show Tony Parker's dominance. Harper had a putrid 7 points, off 3-for-11 shooting (1-of-7 from downtown), in 33 minutes. The 10 rebounds are one of few positives taken from this colossal match.
Justin's farewell game came on the road in a 79-70 loss to Pau Orthez. Harper seemed super smooth and calm in this match. There would be no confidence rattling on this evening. 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting (2-for-4 on 3s) in just 23 minutes of work is a good way to go out. After that December 2nd match, it was off to Richmond for the now Magic rookie. The Spider graduate got to recharge his batteries at home for a few days. Now he's in town, and ready to go to work yet again for training camp that begins on Friday.
In 9 games with SIG, Justin posted 13.0 ppg, 45.8 FG%, 38.6 3-PT%, 6.6 rpg, and about a block per contest. 12-of-18 from the free throw stripe isn't really indicative of how fantastic a shooter this kid should be in the Association. Orlando's front office definitely likes what they've seen up to this point. I refuse to fathom the thought of this 2nd rounder failing with this organization. If nothing else Magic fans, Justin may play so well he'll become adequate trade bait if it helps Dwight stay in town. Welcome to Orlando, Mr. Harper. Make the best of your situation.