Less than a year into his max contract, and the trade rumors surrounding Sixers’ forward Tobias Harris have reached an unbearable level. Every single week there’s a new “hypothetical trade” being pushed by the national media, usually involving Harris being shipped out for lesser value in return.
Harris for Brandon Ingram, Harris for Eric Gordon, Harris for JJ Redick, etc.
The list goes on and on. Now, part of this phenomenon can be blamed on the current global pandemic. People are starved for sports content and writing a quick piece involving breaking up the Sixers is good for views (I’m not innocent here either), but these types of stories do speak volumes on how the league feels about Tobias Harris. Despite averaging close to 20 points per game in his first full season with the 76ers, the eight-year veteran has found himself labeled as expendable.
Harris was acquired during last year’s trade deadline in a pretty stellar blockbuster trade. Newly hired general manager Elton Brand had already made waves in the league once before by landing Jimmy Butler, now he was turning his attention to yet another high scoring star. Trading away Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, two first-round picks, and two second-round picks, the Sixers acquired Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, and Boban Marjanovic.
Seeing as Harris was in the final year of his contract, it was a pretty alarmingly high price to pay at the time. Re-signing Harris following the 2019 season would be imperative.
Luckily, the Sixers and Harris were able to agree on a shiny new extension. In a deal that made him the highest-paid 76er in franchise history, Harris signed a 5 year/$180 million extension.
That number obviously turned some heads, however, it was an easy decision for the 76ers front office to make. A team doesn’t trade away multiple high-level assets to simply watch the player walk in free agency the following year. The Sixers value Tobias Harris, and shelling out some serious cash to keep him around for the future was a no brainer.
Al Horford was later signed via free agency, Josh Richardson was landed in a sign-and-trade, and Ben Simmons signed his own new extension, creating a starting five which was meant to contend for a championship. Nine months later and the team currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Blame has been tossed around freely by the Sixers community, with a majority of it landing on Tobias Harris.
Citing his huge contract, fans were quick to point out that Harris’ production hasn’t been rivaling that of other “max players” in the league. With this thought process being employed, many fans were also quick to agree with some of the previously mentioned hypothetical trade articles.
This is where the word “expectations” comes into play.
Tobias Harris was not acquired to be the second coming of Michael Jordan. Heck, he wasn’t even acquired to be the Sixers’ version of Scottie Pippen. Salary figure aside, Harris was pursued by the 76ers to be one of the league’s best “third options”. On a team that is clearly being built around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, having a player like Harris as your third-best player is a massive luxury in today’s league.
Tobias Harris is averaging 19.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 47.2% from the field and 36.2% from three. His defense improves by the week, he’s shooting over 80% from the free-throw line, and he hasn’t missed a game all season. He is the perfect complimentary piece to the Simmons-Embiid partnership.
Look at the tweet I included above, how many of those players are the third choice on their respective teams? Guys like Brandon Ingram and Pascal Siakam have entire playbooks built around their abilities, whereas Harris is regularly left standing out on the perimeter as things are run through his fellow stars. The fact that he’s been able to consistently put up 19 a game, primarily scoring via isolation scenarios, is nothing short of spectacular.
Throw in the fact that you haven’t heard Harris complain about his usage once all season (unlike a certain Al Horford…), that’s a type of player coaches would kill for.
*While Harris does in fact lead the team in field goal attempts, anyone who has watched a Sixers game this year knows that doesn’t tell the full story. Very rarely is the offense actually “run” through Tobias.*
The Sixers need to make some serious changes this upcoming offseason, I’m not denying that. While I personally like Harris as a player and a person, there’s also no point in denying that he hasn’t been playing like a stereotypical “max player”. However, trading him away solves next to nothing. For all intents and purposes, he’s one of the few pieces on the current Sixers roster who has the ability to “fit” next to Embiid and Simmons.
Replacing 19+ points per game is easier said than done. Unless the Sixers are magically landing a multi-time All-Star in return, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Sixers aren’t getting the short end of the stick.
The 76ers spent big on Harris and on the luxury of having an elite “third scorer”, and in reality, it’s worked. Giving up on that logic less than a year into his five-year deal would be a huge mistake.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports