As the offseason has yet to fully kick off for the Philadelphia 76ers, much of the repetitive noise around James Harden’s free agency has been recently drowned out by various rumblings involving Tobias Harris.
Rumors from Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer have suggested multiple teams have reached out in regards to Harris. Pompey also suggested that the Sixers had requested a fairly outrageous trade package in return for the veteran forward and that they are not particularly motivated to move him at this point in time.
However one feels about the information from this source, one thing is perfectly clear. The Sixers are not in a rush to trade Tobias Harris, and it’s fair to suggest that they are right to exercise patience in this. Harris has value, far more than he often gets credit for, in a variety of areas and is an asset to the Sixers and would be to a potential next team. It’s important to understand that value, so let’s break do the case of his value to the Sixers, the value of his contract, and finally, his value to other teams.
The value of Tobias Harris to the Sixers
Tobias Harris made headlines recently after calling out “casual Sixers fans” and stating how rare it is to have a player who fits the specific mold he feels describes himself. Looking at that archetype, Harris referenced his height, three-point shooting ability, defensive acumen, and durability, but does his claim hold water?
Among forwards who measure at 6’7″ or above and played at least 60 games last season, Tobias Harris is the only player who: ranks in the top 10 in three-point percentage, defensive win shares per game (0.106), and estimated defensive rating (110.1). Now defensive analytics are notoriously untrustworthy, yes, and this is not to suggest that Harris is among the top defenders in the league, but the eye test as well tells the story of Harris’ growth as a defender.
While his overall box score stats may not appear to be overly impressive, as he averaged 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, it’s important to look at his production in the context of his role. As the fourth offensive option for the Sixers this past season, Tobias Harris often found himself relegated to the corner as the gameplan was dominated by either Joel Embiid touches at the elbow or isolation possessions from James Harden. While Embiid and Harden thrived in that scheme, it also limited the entirety of the team’s offense. Under new head coach Nick Nurse, that is likely to change.
Assuming Nurse brings one or two old tricks over from the ol’ Raptors days, the Sixers will likely find themselves running a more complex and more effective offense. Plays like the “corner flare,” “top pin,” or “pin in” could all improve the flow of the entire team’s offensive game, including that of Tobias Harris.
It’s not solely about Harris’ on-court production either, as he’s been the team’s vocal leader effectively since his arrival in 2019. Just look at what two of Harris’ teammates/former teammates had to say about him:
“He shows up every day no matter what’s asked of him… Whether it’s guarding the best player or being a real scoring threat when they’re doubling other guys, he’s just a consummate pro, and I think it speaks volumes to his character.”— Georges Niang via Sixers Wire
“He’s incredibly stubborn. He’s incredibly stubborn and he has an incredibly strong will so it’s like to overcome and just kinda fight through, he can kinda just turn it off and whatever it is that should be bothering him, just becomes a non-issue and then he can do whatever it is that’s necessary.”— Matisse Thybulle via Sixers Wire
On and off the court, Harris provides value to this Sixers team, and they will not just idly toss that to the wayside. Is he an “assassin scorer?” History may not support that claim, but he is a versatile and effective player and a committed leader who serves a role on this team, despite his contract. Speaking of:
The value of Tobias Harris’ contract
Tobias Harris’ value goes beyond his impact both on and off the courts, as his contract has suddenly become something of a positive asset to the right team. As franchises begin to reassess their plans according to the new CBA, a nearly $40 million expiring deal opens up many different possibilities.
Any team that lands Harris would also acquire his Bird rights which would allow them to sign him even if the team is over the cap and to do so at 8% raise intervals, giving them another leg up over the potential competition. While owning his Bird rights shouldn’t be overlooked, the primary focus should be the cap relief Harris could provide in 2024 and beyond.
It has not been an uncommon theme for teams with high dollar-value deals that stretch over multiple years to attempt to move those deals for cap flexibility. Under the new CBA, this will be more crucial than ever. The inclusion of the second apron under the new CBA already has and will continue to impact how teams value assets moving forward. This has already been seen in how teams now value second-round draft picks during last Thursday’s NBA Draft. With the harsher penalties that come with the second apron, teams will be active as they attempt to circumnavigate said penalties.
Teams who find themselves above the second apron cannot do the following: Utilize the mid-level exception, include cash as part of trades, accept more salary in a trade than the team sends out aggregate salary in trades, trade its first-round pick seven years in the future, and finally, they cannot sign players on the buyout market. That’s quite the list of penalties, but it certainly explains why most teams will try to the best of their ability to avoid it. Phoenix’s model of smashing through the apron as opposed to dancing around it will not be the standard.
Many teams currently find themselves with players whose contacts fit the description above, and while they could look to trade those players into space, there is historically no return for the players traded in such a case. Typically, teams will include picks just to move off of the deal. The unique aspect of exchanging future committed salary for Harris as opposed to cap space is that the team would be acquiring a starting caliber player. Instead of Philadelphia selling off cheap, as teams often do, the Sixers are in a rare position of strength with Harris’ expiring near $40 million deal.
Of course, Philadelphia would prefer, above all, the opportunity to land a star-caliber player on a similar deal if they were to part ways with Tobias Harris, but that may not prove to be an option.
The value of Tobias Harris to other teams
The value of Tobias Harris to other teams has already been summed up; however, it deserves to be laid out plainly once again. First and foremost, the ability to duck the second apron next season is of tremendous value. Second, the lack of players who possess the size and two-way ability of Harris has been noted, and players who only share a similar build and skill combination have consistently been valued this offseason.
Harrison Barnes and De’Andre Hunter continued to float around the rumor mill, with multiple teams pining for their services. For a similar player but of higher quality, compounded with the ability to get off of future salary, there is a legitimate opportunity for a mutually beneficial trade with the right team. Certainly, Barnes and Hunter come at a lower dollar amount, but the potential impact of their deals — in Barnes’ case, his assumed deal — Harris has the edge in value from a financial standpoint in addition to a talent perspective.
This is not to suggest the Sixers, nor their fans, should expect some enormous package in return should the team decide to trade away Harris, but rather it shows the organization would be wise to exercise patience in this matter as Harris cannot be as easily replaced as some may believe.