February 07, 2019
Tobias Harris' fit in Philadelphia is one that we'll be questioning until we see how this grand experiment plays out on the floor. In theory, he's a great fit between Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons specifically. But with frustrations about the offensive gameplan coming to light with only three stars on the roster, it's fair to wonder how it'll all come together.
Listening to Harris talk during his first media availability in Philadelphia, it doesn't seem like he's the guy who will be the source of trouble if the Sixers' Plan A goes South.
For those who haven't followed Harris' career closely, it feels like he has been in the league forever because of all the different teams he has suited up for. But this was never really a reflection of his talent or who he is as a person, instead, a commentary on a series of teams stuck in weird positions, unsure who to invest their resources in moving forward.
In the midst of the best season of his career with his prime still in front of him, Harris could value any number of things — money, location, perhaps just the opportunity to be the face of a franchise. But when I asked him for his list of priorities heading into free agency this summer, Harris gave an answer that should make Sixers fans feel good about the team's ability to keep him.
"Top of the list for me is just winning culture. That's No. 1," said Harris on Thursday night. "No. 2 is just loyalty. That's the biggest thing to me. It's no surprise, I've been traded a couple times now. Just finding the right situation for team basketball, winning culture, and loyalty from both sides. Those are the three top things. This team has made a big trade for myself, and hopefully, this can be a long-term partnership and we can make it work."
"I'm excited for that. I know one thing that can [take care of everything] is if we win basketball games. That's the key focus right now."
Loyalty toward athletes only tends to be extended to people as long as they're useful for the team paying their salary. But by virtue of the haul the Sixers gave up to bring Harris in, they have as much incentive as any team could have to show Harris he's valued, that they'll be the franchise to allow him to stick his roots into a city and build a legacy that will define his career.
Ask around the league about Harris, and most people will tell you he's a driven, thoughtful guy who is committed to getting better in every phase of his life. He's a voracious reader who is often spotted in the locker room with books before games, and a player who transformed himself from an interior player into a legitimate three-level scorer, one of the league's best shooters over the past two seasons.
Despite this, Harris does not come here with demands or a history of making them. Instead, he noted he has built his game in a way that allows him to fit into a variety of scenarios for Philadelphia. He told reporters he has already had dinner with head coach Brett Brown, and Harris sounds happy to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
"We've just got to come together and build the chemistry fast in the best way that we can," said Harris. "Whether that be guys turning down the shots they make take for the next pass, or just having fun. When we go out there and we have fun, we run, we play defense and we get out in transition, we impose our will every single night. Other teams will be out there waiting like dang, that team's good, that's a championship team. That's what we want them to know every single night."
"I'm comfortable with ball movement. The more the ball moves, the better my game is suited. I'm comfortable getting up and down and running. I've been in so many different situations that I've been adapted to a lot of them...I've been able to adapt in different situations, and I look forward to see how this one presents itself."
The fun factor has been an underrated part of what the Sixers have been missing over the last couple month. One of the underrated struggles of the Butler trade has been replacing the spirit of the players that went the other way in the Jimmy Butler deal. The bromance between Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell was real, and the shared bond of the holdovers from "The Process" kept them together even when times got tough.
Harris and Co. were obviously not around during those years, but he brings his own buddy cop dynamic to the group. The affection he has for backup big man Boban Marjanovic is real, and while you don't need to be best buddies to win basketball games, a shared sense of commitment gives you a base to build from and hold onto.
The Sixers have brought on a considerable amount of talent this season, but it has not come without risk. Philadelphia has burned up future assets, turned consolidated depth players for star power, and bet big on the ability of this core to win right now, despite the considerable competition they'll face just to get out of the Eastern Conference, let alone win a Finals.
But this time, it seems the Sixers made a blockbuster move that doesn't come with a lot of question marks. They got a very good player whose goals align with the franchise, and even as he went into detail about what makes him tick, Harris made one thing clear: the ex-Clippers are coming here together, and their new team will rise and fall as a group, not as individuals.
"We understand the team invested a lot in us, all three of us," said Harris. "I think all of us can be up here and say that means a lot, and this is already a winning culture. We just look to bring our games to it and help the best way we can."
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