It’s been a long
ten three years since the Sixers acquired Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers midseason during the 2018-19 campaign. The team thus rewarded Harris with a five-year, near-maximum level contract worth $180 million, during the same offseason where general manager Elton Brand would bid adieu to Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick, welcome in Josh Richardson and extend Ben Simmons alongside Harris.
It was, what we call in the biz, a “bad offseason.” It “did not go well,” as they say.
The subsequent season was a disaster from both a basketball and a global perspective — the team limped toward a sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and was swept by the Boston Celtics in the Orlando Bubble, which was instituted by the league out of necessity due to a horrible, deadly, global pandemic ravaging the entire world.
The season after, of course, saw a sea change for the Sixers. Richardson and Horford were jettisoned for players who fit better, Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers swept in to save the day, and under Rivers, Harris in particular played much better. His shot regained its form in the regular season, as he flirted with not only a 50/40/90 year but an All-Star appearance. Of course, the Sixers were again ousted in hellacious fashion once more in the playoffs at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks, and a number of awful basketball and basketball-adjacent things have happened since.
The ever-present issue since Harris was acquired by the team and — more to the point — signed to that contract, is that he provides the team with absolutely nowhere near the value suggested in the number he earns annually (~$36 million this year, ~$37 million next, $39 million in 2023). During the regular season last year, Harris managed to convert a great deal of his shots from the field, which made his usually unseemly shot profile a bit more palatable (Harris hardly ever gets to the free throw line and is an inexplicably hesitant shooter from three point range). This season, those percentages have come back to earth, so his slow processing, mid-range insistence and lack of a quick-trigger has become more and more maddening for Sixers fans. The other thing about Harris (especially at his price tag) is that even on his best nights, he can score the basketball but is not a good passer, an average defender of only one position, and provides you very little else at even an average level.
Of course, the ire this season has been hyper-focused on Harris because there is also another $30 million on the Sixers’ cap sheet that is either committed to or being obligated in escrow on behalf of a gentleman opting not to participate as a member of the team whatsoever. But this isn’t an article about him, so I digress.
The other elephant in the room in reference to Harris’ tenure in Philadelphia is his difficulty in the playoffs. He has struggled to convert his own shot against stiff competition. Harris was lucky that his aforementioned teammate struggled to the degree that he did in the Atlanta series, for he provided him a great deal of cover from the level of rancor he’d likely have received otherwise.
So what I’ve done is waded into the waters of the trade machine beyond to try to find three trades that make a decent amount of sense for both the Sixers and Harris’ acquiring team. It is a difficult task, for the Sixers want to win a title, and Harris is not without current value on the team and certainly in the locker room. But the team would absolutely trade him in the right deal. Let’s see if there is one to be made.
Harris for CJ McCollum
First, on Tuesday, some scary injury news came out about McCollum:
Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum has a pneumothorax (collapsed right lung) and will be further evaluated, team says.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 8, 2021
I have no idea how this will affect his availability to get on the court this season, so I’d rather like to zoom out and just examine a Tobias-for-CJ trade as a thought exercise rather than a “how would it impact this season’s title chances” conversation given this news. Suffice it to say that is an extremely scary and unorthodox injury to hear about and we certainly hope CJ heals up soon.
The Portland Trail Blazers are on the precipice of immense organizational change. After firing team president Neil Olshey for violations of the organization’s code of conduct, report after report has leaked about discord among star Damian Lillard and the team’s brass, his desire for immense change within the roster, and head coach Chauncey Billups’ inability to get through to his squad. Short of Lillard finally asking for a trade, a McCollum deal seems like the most reasonable next step for Portland. Of course, rumor has it that Dame wants Ben Simmons in Portland. But reports are out of Philadelphia that the Sixers aren’t too keen on that swap, so unless Portland gets desperate and ties the team’s foreseeable draft future to CJ on his way out the door, I wouldn’t hold your breath for that one.
So who says no in a CJ-for-Tobias swap? The Sixers probably do it, I think. Even if it would leave the Sixers small up front and CJ may be a bit redundant with Seth Curry and to a lesser extent Tyrese Maxey. For years the Sixers have been short on end-of-game shot creation and despite early season struggles and a not-great contractual situation, McCollum can get his own shot and fires away from deep.
Portland says no, I think. Harris just doesn’t move the needle for them, and his contract is a tough pill to swallow. Right now, ownership in Portland needs to sell Damian Lillard on their vision for the future to keep him in town, and I just can’t imagine that pitch begins with trading for Harris.
Harris for Luguentz Dort and Mike Muscala ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
(Note: since Muscala was signed this offseason, this trade could not be legally consummated until 12/15.)
Full disclosure: the original title for this article was “scouring the internet for 5 quasi-realistic Tobias Harris trades.” There simply aren’t that many! So let’s get weird.
In this one, the Sixers take the long view, somewhat, and free themselves of the Harris contract two-and-a-half years before it expires. In return, they recoup Luguenz Dort, a human bowling ball, destroyer of worlds, defender of all, and vastly improved three-point shooter (up to 33.9 percent from beyond this season on a massive 7.4 attempts per night). Dort is only 6-foot-3 but stout enough to guard almost anyone in the league. I love watching him whenever I make the mistake of watching the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s great.
But wait, there’s more! The moose is loose!
That’s right. The man responsible for Tyrese Maxey’s arrival in Philadelphia: one time Sixer Mike Muscala could make his triumphant return to the friendly confines of the ***** ***** Center. In 14 minutes per game this season, Muscala is shooting 43 percent from beyond this season, and would give the Sixers a stretch five option off the bench.
For the Thunder, Muscala is certainly not a long-term piece, and Dort, while a success story, may not be an entrenched member of the team’s ultimate core whenever the team plans to contend again. And since Sam Presti doesn’t get out of bed if not for a first-round pick, he gets one here for his trouble. Since the Thunder have nothing but Derrick Favors and tumbleweeds blowing past its cap sheet, this is the rare Harris trade where we needn’t worry about matching salary.
Still, the Sixers almost certainly say no here. Lineup versatility and financial flexibility be damned, I just can’t imagine the Sixers opting to subtract one of the team’s only shot creators for guys like Dort and Moose while the Simmons return remains completely uncertain. If that trade was made for an A-level shotmaker? Then maybe. But not today, with the state of the roster being what it is. But an interesting thought exercise nonetheless.
Harris for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber
(Note: since Hardaway Jr. was signed this offseason, this trade could not be legally consummated until 12/15.)
This may be the closest we’ve gotten. Here, the Mavericks — a team that seems to be struggling from an early season malaise and could be in need of some more steady secondary scoring — go out and acquire Harris, a player they’ve been rumored to have interest in in the past. Giving up Hardaway and taking on the Harris’ contract would both be tough pills to swallow, so a pick or two coming from Philly could be in the cards, but the basic foundation could make some sense. Kleber is an important piece to their team but his spot in the rotation would be taken by Tobi anyway.
For the Sixers, the team would rid itself of the Harris deal in favor of two smaller and much more movable (if necessary) deals, and two players who would fit the roster quite nicely. Hardaway Jr. can play both on and off ball, can make threes, and can create a bit at the end of the shot clock. Kleber can defend a number of positions, would be a good theoretical fit playing both next to and behind Joel Embiid, and converts threes of his own at a solid rate.
The team that walks away here is probably Dallas, if only for them not loving the long-term ramifications of the Harris contract and the positional issues attendant in the Luca Doncic / Kristaps Porzingis / Tobias Harris lineups, which would skew a bit big for today’s NBA.
So there you have it. Three trades. None of which are likely to happen, but each of which should illustrate the difficulty of a trade centered around Tobias Harris — a good player who just gets paid too much money and isn’t what this team needs him to be, currently.
Each fake trade here was made via Fanspo