June 30, 2019
The Sixers will retain free agent Tobias Harris on a five year, $180 million contract, a source confirmed to PhillyVoice on Sunday evening. It is a small discount underneath the max, but not much of one, and Harris will be paid handsomely to play alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for years to come.
With all sorts of uncertainty surrounding Jimmy Butler in free agency, the Sixers made it a top priority to sit down with their other major free agent to open the offseason. Their pitch to Harris clearly worked, and while Butler's future remains up in the air as of Sunday evening, the Sixers now have one of their complementary pieces locked up for the foreseeable future.
Whether this is news that will be celebrated by the fanbase at large is up for debate. While Harris came to Philadelphia with much fanfare and as a great theoretical fit next to their core players, he struggled to hit the same stride as he had at his previous stop in Los Angeles. Harris' shooting numbers plummeted in Philadelphia, and his struggles during the postseason cast some doubt about whether he would be worth a max or near-max contract. He ended up falling short of a five-year max, but not by much.
If you were going to bet strictly on a person, though, Harris fits the mold of the sort of guy you want around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. He has improved his game year after year since entering the league, adapting on the fly to be a high-volume shooter after not being much of one at all coming out of Tennessee. Harris has shown the work ethic (and the necessary talent) to make you believe he can live up to the responsibility of being a big-time player, even if he came up small under the spotlight last season. On a team that has emphasized culture at every turn, having a guy like Harris around matters a lot.
In a piece he penned for ESPN to explain his decision, Harris cited the team's hard-fought series with Toronto as part of the motivation to return to Philadelphia:
As soon as I arrived from the LA Clippers in February, I could see the possibilities with this group of players, organization and city. We've got unfinished business, and I'm ready to commit to a long-term vision of bringing a title to Philadelphia. From the moment I arrived in Philadelphia, the city has embraced me. This is an incredible sports town and it's hungry for an NBA title. So are the Sixers -- and so am I.
We had a talented group and made a great run all the way to Game 7 against the eventual NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors. We will always remember Kawhi Leonard's shot bouncing on the rim, and finally, falling through the net. It was a heartbreaking loss, the kind that motivates you to want to get back into the playoffs -- and go even further. [ESPN]
This contract, obviously, puts a whole lot more of that spotlight on him, and depending on what happens with Butler, some more responsibility could be headed Harris' way. That may end up being a good thing — he was at his best with a bigger share of the offense on the Clippers, and with more time to settle into a rhythm and hunt shots on his own, perhaps we would see him return to the form that made him an attractive piece to begin with.
That shouldn't be accepted as a guarantee, of course, and it will be up to Harris to show and prove. Philadelphia is not a city where people are afraid to let players know what they think of them if they believe they're overpaid. Any excuses based around continuity or unfamiliarity with his new teammates will be out the window this season.
But that cuts the other way for Philly, too. Harris was able to showcase more of his skill set in the playoffs, running more pick-and-roll and taking the control of the offense more than he had during the first couple months of his tenure. Increased familiarity should bring the best out of all of them, and Brett Brown now has a better understanding of which lineup combinations will work and how best to use Harris — which is to say, by deploying him in a variety of situations.
Because Harris is a bit younger than Butler, the Sixers should expect to get good years of production from Harris for the duration of the contract. While he may end up ceding touches and shots to Embiid and Simmons as they all get older, he should still be near peak levels of performance as the two young stars hit their prime, which is a big part of Harris' draw here. He helps them compete now without having to swallow a hit on the back end to do so.
As for when this deal becomes official, don't expect any official announcements for a while. In the event Jimmy Butler leaves, the Sixers can delay the Harris signing being official and leave Harris on his lower cap hold (currently just over $22 million) and then renounce other free agents in order to clear max cap space, should there be any big targets left to splurge on. Even if there aren't, the Sixers have no real incentive to rush to sign Harris now that an agreement is in place.
Harris also becomes part of the group pitching Butler on sticking around in Philly, rather than a free agent busy taking meetings and deciding on his destination. That may not end up factoring into Butler's decision at all, but Harris is well-liked around the league, so having him in the fold as the Sixers make approaches on other free agents is a good thing.
If this is the only big move the Sixers make in free agency, it will likely leave them short of being a true contender, but this is an important step to keep them on the path toward contention. If you were considering getting a Harris jersey, go ahead and splurge now.
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