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Can Joe Tsai afford NOT to sign Joe Harris?

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Alibaba Group Executive Vice-Chairman Joe Tsai at the SCMP Town Hall Meeting at Excelsior Hotel in Causeway Bay. 24MAR16 SCMP/Jonathan Wong Photo by Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Mike Mazzeo, writing for Forbes Sports Money, thinks that Joe Tsai has to sign Joe Harris. Harris’ free agency is too much of a milestone for Tsai’s ownership, he says.

Noting that Harris is the “first free agent of significance in the Tsai era” — the “Clean Sweep” officially took place while Mikhail Prokhorov was owner although Tsai obviously signed off on it — Mazzeo argued, “it’s incumbent on Tsai to make sure the franchise keeps its essentially homegrown, low-maintenance floor-spacer in the fold, which would set a strong precedent going forward.”

It’s going to be expensive. Bobby Marks has said that any Harris contract starting at $12 million would mean a $50 million luxury tax payment. And on Monday, Bobby Marks put Harris market value at between $14 million and $16 million, a doubling of his current deal. It should be noted, as well, that Harris essentially gave the Nets a discount when he signed two years ago.

A $50 million luxury tax payment would be the fifth biggest in NBA history. The Nets hold the record, having paid out $90.6 million in 2014 after becoming the first NBA team to have five players making more than $10 million a year.

Tsai has said all the right things, as Mazzeo recounts. In January, Tsai went on the YES Network and said he’d have no problem paying the tax. How much is the issue.

“Absolutely. I think the fans expect that we win a championship. And the good thing is I believe that we do have the pieces in place,” Tsai said in an interview with Ian Eagle.

“Now we have some injuries and people are coming back. But the fundamental pieces are in place to perhaps go all the way, so I’m absolutely comfortable that if we pay the luxury tax that’s fine.”

Specifically, with regard to Harris, Sean Marks said of his shooting guard, “Priority number one. It’s that simple, yeah.”

And of course, Tsai has the money to go with his passion. Depending on whether you follow the daily tracking data of Forbes ($14.5 billion) or Bloomberg ($15.7 billion), Tsai is one of the richest people in the world and the third richest owner in the NBA, behind the Clippers’ Steve Ballmer and the Cavs’ Dan Gilbert.

According to Bloomberg, Tsai’s net worth, based mainly on his interest in Alibaba, has jumped by $5 billion since he bought a 49 percent stake in the Nets back in October 2017. Moreover, Tsai is about to become much wealthier just as free agency opens next month. Ant Financial, China’s version of PayPal that’s controlled by Alibaba, will be going public on the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges.

On the other hand, the Nets and the rest of Tsai’s Brooklyn properties are bleeding money with COVID-19 shutting things down.

Harris has said all the right things about returning to the Nets, too. In May, he said Brooklyn is “my ideal scenario” and back in November, when asked about free agency, replied, “To be honest, personally, I already get paid way too much to play a game. I’m not too worried about it.”

Still, Harris is in an ideal situation. Over the past three seasons, he has the best 3-point shooting percentage in the NBA and won the title —and the 3-point contest— two years ago. He’s also become an all-around player, a fan favorite and a symbol of the team’s elite player development program. There will be competition. How would the Nets react if another team with cap space offered Harris a four-year, $64 million package.

As Mazzeo writes,

Retaining Joe Harris is a no-brainer in trying to reach that goal.

Joe Tsai knows it. Sean Marks knows it. Steve Nash knows it. Harris and his agent know it, too. Time to set a precedent and strike a deal.

So, we wait.