Tobias Harris is going to be a Sixer for a rather long time, so it seems appropriate to begin with a rather long story that illustrates why Elton Brand’s decision to offer him a five-year, $180 million deal Sunday night made sense.
Back in October, as he prepared for his first professional game, Landry Shamet said he liked his college teammate Fred VanVleet’s “little motto": Bet on yourself. Shamet did just that, forced his way into the Sixers’ rotation and established himself as one of the better young shooters in the NBA.
Back in February, Brand traded Shamet to the Clippers. He also gave Los Angeles Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, the Sixers’ protected 2020 first-round pick, Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder and the Pistons’ second-rounders in 2021 and 2023. In return, the Sixers received Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic.
Brand bet on the 26-year-old Harris in that deal. He saw a talented player on the trade market and was undeterred by the many things that might cause him to regret a deal with the Clippers — Shamet’s potential, that unprotected first-rounder in 2021, the possibility that Harris didn’t have much more room to improve.
Brand bet on himself, in a way, by re-signing Harris. The 32.6 percent three-point mark in 27 regular-season games with the Sixers didn’t spook him. The 15.5 points per game in the playoffs didn’t shake him from his original valuation. And the thought of paying a player who’s never made an All-Star Game $180 million didn’t alarm him.
Harris was Brand’s guy in February, and he’s going to be his guy for at least five more seasons.
It’s a futures bet, in part. Harris is already a very good player, excellent as a spot-up shooter and in the pick-and-roll with the Clippers, a 20 point per game scorer last season. A large part of his appeal, however, is the steady upward trajectory his career was on — outside of the dip in efficiency with the Sixers.
There were adjustments and sacrifices required of Brett Brown, Harris, the departed Jimmy Butler and everyone involved with the final iteration of the Sixers last season. The team had a couple of actions they liked to run for Harris, but he spent a lot of time lingering on the edge of the play with things revolving around Ben Simmons, Butler and Embiid.
Now, Harris won’t be nudged into the background as often. The Sixers’ new starting five has incredible potential defensively but they’ll need perimeter scoring — especially if Ben Simmons doesn’t show significant progress with his jump shot — and Harris will be called upon to provide it.
Brown was asked about Harris and his role with the Sixers before Game 3 of the team's first-round playoff series against the Nets.
When you have Joel and you have Jimmy and you have Ben, there are mouths to feed, so to speak," he said. "Because he is inherently selfless, his mindset to sort of put his thumbprint all over a game and grab it is challenged. … It’s that more than the NBA playoffs type of pressure reason. I don’t see that.
With Joel Embiid sidelined by injury, Harris scored 29 points and shot 6 for 6 from three-point range that night.
Brand is also betting on an individual Brown proudly described as “an elite human being” in his same prescient pregame response in Brooklyn. Human qualities are a factor worth considering when you’re giving a long-term, lucrative commitment, and the Sixers couldn’t feel much better about Harris as a person.
Bets always involve some risk, of course. Harris’ development could stagnate, he might struggle to guard wings — a job he’ll need to do as part of the Sixers’ gargantuan starting lineup — and the price tag might wind up being too high.
For Brand, it looks like a bet worth making regardless.
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