Tobias Harris, particularly for someone about to be paid superstar NBA wages, has the odd distinction of having been traded seven times, sort of. Two of those don’t really count, because the deals were for a future first-round pick while he was still playing his one season at the University of Tennessee.
So, it’s actually five trades in eight years when both sides of the deal knew that Harris, who was the 19th pick of the 2011 draft, was included in the transaction. Still, five is a lot. The 6-foot-9 forward to whom the 76ers are expected to offer a maximum five-year, $188 million contract, has the experience of being willingly shipped out by five teams that held his rights.
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His career transactions record makes for quite a list. Harris has been in deals that involved, among others, Jimmer Fredette, JJ Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, Ish Smith, Blake Griffin, Gerald Wallace, and Bismack Biyombo. He has crisscrossed the country from Charlotte to Milwaukee to Orlando to Detroit to Los Angeles to Philadelphia.
A lot of what happens between Harris and the Sixers in the next six weeks depends on what is important to the player. The team has backed itself into an untenable corner and pretty much has to make the offer.
But Harris has a choice. If he feels like settling down as the fourth offensive option here, then he takes the $188 million and stays. If he wants to be a bigger piece of the puzzle elsewhere — and there are reportedly five other teams preparing to go after him — Harris can get as much as four years and $144 million. He has already earned $71 million in his career, and it’s easy for an outsider to count someone else’s money, but how much bologna can a man buy in one lifetime?
Harris seems like a sincere guy, and he said he really enjoyed playing alongside his Sixers teammates. That probably means something, but we won’t know how much it means until free agency opens June 30. Tracing the path of his career, this is either a guy very ready to stop moving around, or a guy who wants to finally pick his spot instead of having others pick it for him.
It would be read as a disaster for the team if he goes elsewhere, simply because the trade to get him was so heavy. For Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott, the team gave up Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, two first-round picks, and two second-round picks. The Clippers weren’t convinced Harris was max-worthy after having a very good look at him and got back an extremely promising young player in Shamet, two expiring contracts, and a fistful of draft picks, including the 2021 unprotected Miami pick that was the crown jewel of the Sixers’ star-hunting assets.
The Sixers have to go all the way with Harris, whether he’s worth it or not. That’s where the front office has put them. Harris does add a nice component to the offense, but one that can be found elsewhere, and his defense is acceptable at best. In the Toronto playoff series, he shot just 38 percent from the field and 27.9 percent on three-pointers. In the regular season for the Sixers, he had a plus rating in only 13 of 27 games. He is durable — he would have played 83 games in the regular season if he hadn’t been deactivated for the finale — and will turn 27 in July.
The way to ask the question, however, is this: If Harris were someone else’s free agent, and there was no trade history to weigh, would the Sixers open the vault to go after him? I think the answer is no.
Some of how this plays out is dependent on what happens with Jimmy Butler, the other free agent they overpaid to get. He’s got a mind of his own, too, but judging by Playoff Jimmy, there’s no question he appears worth the investment.
The same can’t necessarily be said of Harris, especially when he represents a restrictive fourth max contract on the roster. It has nothing to do with managing partner Josh Harris’ pledge to pay the luxury tax on those deals. It is about still having the cap flexibility to build a functional bench, something the team neglected to do for this postseason.
In the long run, the Sixers would be better served by letting Tobias Harris walk in free agency. They would have to eat a lot of criticism if they did, and this isn’t an organization that dines easily on its mistakes.