The Importance of the Sixers Trading Tobias Harris

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Forward Tobias Harris (12) give his teammates a thumbs up during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

The Tobias Harris era in Philadelphia has been a turbulent tenure ever since he came to the Sixers during the 2018-19 season, shortly after the Jimmy Butler trade. Along with Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott, Tobias Harris was traded in exchange for Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, two first-round picks, and two second-round picks. It was a win-now move as the Sixers flipped the switch from NBA bottom-feeders to contenders.

Elton Brand publicly discussed his belief in the long-term future of the “Big Four” of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris. Butler elected to take his talents to South Beach while the Sixers were put in a tough situation after pouring their assets into the two trades. Sixers GM Elton Brand backed up his words and handed Tobias Harris a 5-year $180 million deal — just a shade below a max contract. This hefty deal greatly raised expectations for the forward and clouded Sixers fans’ views on Harris since this time.

Tobias Harris has played the most games of any Sixers player since signing this deal in 2018. He also has played more games with the Sixers than any of the other four teams he has been on. Across the 243 games with the Sixers, Harris has averaged 18.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. He has seen his role greatly shift during his time with the team, with expectations altering along with it. During this season alone, Harris has gone from being expected to be a legitimate number two option during the Ben Simmons holdout during the first half of the season to a complimentary corner three-point shooter following James Harden’s arrival.

While you can nitpick complaints about the contract amount or his throwback playstyle, Tobias Harris has been a model member of the Sixers thus far in his career. He has been invaluable as a teammate and a leader and consistently has done his best to do whatever the team needed. With all this being said, the Sixers must find a way to trade the 29-year-old this offseason.

Sixers Cap Situation

The NBA will officially set the 2022-23 salary cap in July, but it is projected at a $122 million cap and the luxury tax at $149 million. As the Sixers cap currently sits, they are on the books for $89 million in 2022-23. This is with seven players on a fully guaranteed deal on the roster (Embiid, Korkmaz, Niang, Thybulle, Maxey, Springer, and Harris). Paul Reed, Charles Bassey, and Isaiah Joe are also under non-guaranteed deals for just under $2 million each but are all likely to be back. This would bring the cap total to $96.1 million with five missing roster slots.

The biggest question mark on the cap situation revolves around James Harden. The 32-year-old is a free agent this offseason, and both Harden and the Sixers have been open in their desire for his career to continue in Philadelphia. The question does not seem to be if Harden will be back, but rather at what cost?

He currently has a $47.4 million player option that he is free to opt into for next season. For a guy that is being questioned about how much he has left in the tank, this is a pretty good insurance policy. This $47.4 million cap hit would bring the Sixers’ salary cap to roughly $143.5 million. Agreeing to this one-year contract and then having a bounce-back season would open the door for a long-term payment for the former MVP. Harden is currently eligible for a 5-year $270 million max deal and could sign a four-year $223 million deal following his player option.

While James Harden has publically stated his willingness to take less money, it is unclear what his version of less money is. They also still will only have 11 rostered players following the agreement, with some notable holes still on their roster. The bottom line is the Sixers do not have much money to spare this offseason.

Tobias Harris Cap Hit

When searching for areas to create cap space on the Sixers’ current roster, Tobias Harris is the obvious solution. Harris carries the largest cap hit on the Sixers at $37.63 million, heading into next season-4 million more than Joel Embiid. While Harris’ contract has been nearly impossible to trade for most of his tenure in Philly, it certainly seems to be in play again. The two years remaining are a lighter burden to carry and could be paired with a smaller contract that teams find appealing, such as Jaden Springer or Isaiah Joe.

There have been growing whispers of Daryl Morey’s desire to add another star. His perception that the Sixers are lacking offensive firepower is accurate, although possibly misguided. Placing the priority on a max deal player over a collection of complementary pieces is questionable but would be unsurprising given Morey’s history. Regardless, the reality is that if the Sixers are in the market for either a big-name free agent or notable role players, they must create the cap space to make this possible.

Whether the goal is to flip Tobias Harris for complementary role players or to do cap gymnastics to open up space for a free agent, the reality is his days with the Sixers must be over. Harris is a talented basketball player who still certainly has a place in the NBA. However, he will never be the perfect complimentary piece on this Sixers roster, and his large cap hit could be better utilized on other players.

Daryl Morey has done an excellent job finding a way out of poor contracts dished out by the previous regime, and this will be another example of this. There are plenty of changes set to be made as the Sixers retool to better prepare for a deep playoff run, but expect Tobias Harris to be one of the first chips to fall.