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June 12, 2019

Report: Nets and Sixers' Tobias Harris 'have mutual free agent interest'

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Kevin Durant's Achilles injury is most likely going to impact the NBA for years to come. It may impact the Sixers as soon as this summer, if the free agency plans of teams in the hunt for Durant shift because of the injury.

Mike Scotto of The Athletic reported on Tuesday that one of the key figures in Brooklyn, should they decide to explore elsewhere, will be Philadelphia's Tobias Harris. From Scotto's story (bold emphasis mine):

Nets management always planned to swing for the fences and try to sign the game's elite free agents, including Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and [Kyrie] Irving. However, the team also entered the summer with other contingency plans.

The Nets and free agent forward Tobias Harris have mutual free agent interest in each other, league sources told The Athletic. Harris represents a fit at power forward, where Brooklyn shuffled four players last season. Harris, who turns 27 on July 15, fits the age trajectory of Brooklyn’s young core, provides offensive versatility as a playmaking four in pick-and-roll sets and as a shooter, and fits Brooklyn’s culture as a well-regarded teammate over his career.

Harris’ family and Nets coach Kenny Atkinson were separated by less than 10 miles on Long Island while growing up and Steve Atkinson – Kenny’s brother – was one of Harris’ coaches in high school. [The Athletic]

The connection between Brooklyn and Harris has been discussed some already, and his Long Island roots make a return to New York appealing if Harris still has a fondness for home. If their pursuit of Harris is for real, however, the financial climate might change.

Max money seemed a little less set in stone for Harris than it did for Jimmy Butler heading into the offseason. He doesn't have the same credentials or history of production in big moments. Knowing that, in an ideal world the Sixers would have wanted to go to him and negotiate from a starting point below the max level. For a player who hasn't proven worth the max, you certainly don't start at the top of the market.

But with more teams desperate to fill big holes on their roster and in their cap sheet, it's hard to stare down Harris and cut the price of his contract down without risking losing him. Teams will strike out on on the big fish and still want to offer something shiny and new to their fanbase. The Brooklyn connection creates some leverage before things really get started, and that's what matters here. 

(Worth noting — this is a huge part of why anyone from Harris' camp would leak this in the first place, even if his intent is to stay in Philadelphia. Uncertainty is one of the most powerful tools you can use as a player in free agent scenarios.)

Since exit interviews took place, Harris has seemed like the more likely candidate to leave for greener pastures. After preaching his desire to put down roots and reward royalty in the days following his arrival in Philadelphia, Harris sang a different tune when asked about whether he was looking for stability this summer.

Well, you know, stability is not know, something that is pretty much...there's only so many players that are super steady in the NBA. Let's just be upfront with that. For me, honestly, style of play is a huge thing. Culture. A chance to be able to win. Just being in the playoffs here and getting that feeling and seeing how bad that lost felt, obviously is somewhere for me get back to like I said before pushing hard to go further than that. But those are just two things off the top.

The Sixers' case is still very simple — they can offer the most money and years to their free agents, and they can offer familiarity and high-level talent to play alongside. If Harris wants to win, no one who is going to make him an offer this summer will have a better case than Philadelphia. Leaving for a more uncertain option is not necessarily the better option, though it may end up being the one that makes him happiest.

As we've discussed all offseason, we don't really know what is going to drive any of Philly's big free agents. Is it money and long-term security? Is it the ability to win? Is it being more of a leading man vs. being a role player on a better team? No one can say for certain.

There will be more rumors like this that emerge before the ink dries on anyone's contract in July. Stay tuned.

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