There have been a few shockwaves across the NBA. But the Sixers have essentially bowed out of possible major acquisitions involving marquis names like Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, and Jordan Poole.
All three of those stars were recently on the move, possibly for trade prices the Sixers (who possess a 2029 first-round pick and up to six second-round picks) could have afforded.
Fans who would have liked Daryl Morey and co. to have at least entered the market on one or two of those names above (as well as perhaps one name on the horizon like Damian Lillard) understand that any such shakeup would likely involve Tobias Harris and his now expiring $39.27M contract.
Harris was acquired by the Sixers back in 2019 via trade by the former Elton Brand “led” front office. (We’ve since learned Brand wasn’t a traditional final say decision maker in those days.)
Yaron Weitzman’s book “Tanking to the Top” offers a description of the scene before Tobias was acquired in February of 2019:
“After the game [Brett] Brown was pulled into a room in the Wells Fargo Center. Brand, [Managing Partner Josh] Harris, his partner David Blitzer, CEO Scott O’Neil, and [former team analytics lead Alex] Rucker were already seated.”
Former head coach Brett Brown would later recall “…[trading for Harris] was a unanimous thumbs up.”
That following summer the team paid the Tennessee product $180M over five years.
We’re now entering that fifth year (crazy isn’t it?) and as reports suggest “there’s nothing imminent,” on the Tobias Harris trade market.
It also sounds like Harris’ agent, Torrel Harris, the 12 year veteran’s father, wouldn’t mind seeing a change of scenery for his son.
Torrel Harris is the CEO of Unique Sports Management International. On a recent episode of the “Business of Sports” podcast, hosted by Bloomberg’s Michael Barr and Damian Sassower, the agent was asked if the 76ers have been utilizing the forward effectively:
“Barr: “I’m probably gonna get in trouble with the 76ers and the league here, do they use your son the way they should?”
Torrel Harris: “Personally, I don’t think so. The reason I say that, well Tobias is an assassin scorer. I mean they can’t stop him. Nobody in the league can stop him. So he’s proven that over his career even when he was with the Clippers he was an assassin scorer....
“And then [L.A.] traded him ’cause they got too good [and wanted to pivot to the Draft Lottery]. They offered us $80M, I turned down the $80M. They said ‘wow what are you looking for?’ I said ‘I want about $35M a year and they’re like ‘what? — I said ‘yeah, $35M a year. [They] said ‘well, we’re not gonna pay you that.’ So they traded him to the Sixers. Ever since [then] the Sixers,’ they put him in the corner.”
Harris wound up getting his client a fully guaranteed ($36M annually) five year almost-max from Philadelphia.
Harris has averaged 17.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a Sixer in regular season games. That comes on 49-37-85 shooting splits. Dude’s been an ironman in Philly too, never missing more than 9 games in any season he’s been here.
As Jake Fischer recently put it, Tobias is “super respected by everyone in that organization.”
In the playoffs, Harris has averaged 17.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 51 games for the Sixers. That span includes 47.4-35-85 shooting splits; pretty similar regular season-postseason numbers.
The team is 27-24 over that postseason span.
In those high leverage games, he’s played some terrific defense at times on scorers like Pascal Siakam, Mikal Bridges, and Jayson Tatum.
He’s come up huge in some big moments. He was terrific in Games 1 and 5 vs. Boston this postseason. Game 5 was probably the most consequential win of the Joel Embiid era and Tobi was a beast, dropping 16 points and 11 boards, shooting 7-of-10 from the floor, to go with some stalwart defense on a couple of the league’s most dangerous scorers in Tatum and Jaylen Brown. I loved the way no. 12 crashed the glass in that one.
But Tobias has also come up memorably short on numerous occasions in pivotal, crushing, home losses, the kind that ultimately turn a second-round series. Harris was a total no show in Game 6. The team was up three games to two over Boston heading home for a close out chance. Harris totaled two points, on 1-of-7 shooting, and didn’t even attempt a field goal in the second half. Even if the Sixers were totally misusing him, there’s not much to say about a dud like that. Even a decent
game second half from Tobi that night, and the Sixers may well have been hosting the Miami Heat in the East Finals.
(Call me crazy, but I think they maybe could have beaten Miami too, which would have meant them hosting the NBA Finals.)
But at times when top names like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons or James Harden were really struggling to get going, Harris has had off nights as well.
Torrel Harris continued:
“They took away, they didn’t utilize him, he was not a priority in their offense. And that’s kind of frustrating because if you’re a kick-butt player. … you don’t want to be in the corner twiddling your thumb. I just think that when they gave him opportunities — like there was a stretch Joel didn’t play and James Harden, didn’t play for like 15 games — he led the team and averaged over 25 points. Then they come back ‘okay, well you gotta go back in the corner.’”
So we’ve talked about this stuff around here for a long time. Brett Brown once wanted Harris to play more of a 3-and-D role to support names like Jimmy Butler, and Joel. When Doc Rivers took over he empowered Harris to shoot much more mid-range shots, and helped him prioritize making “quick decisions.”
Harris, the agent, flirts with hyperbole (he is a proud father, of course) but he also makes a valid point: the Sixers have rarely prioritized letting Harris cook.
The problem is that optimizing Harris simply doesn’t align with the best version of the Sixers. And that doesn’t reflect favorably on Harris’ ability to fit in on a championship caliber team — on his current salary.
If the team opts not to trade him this offseason, would they consider it closer to the February deadline?
There are always a couple teams who pivot to tanking that might enjoy offloading some long-term salaried talent. If he’s not moved through next winter, would the team just let him walk come summer of 2024? If so, they might regret missing out on the chance to acquire a couple better fitting pieces first.
It’s a long offseason. We can wait.