They say the only constant in life is change.
You don’t have to tell Tobias Harris that. Harris has played for five teams in eight seasons so the Sixers’ roster upheaval this summer doesn’t faze him much.
The biggest change for the forward is something he’s craved for years: The opportunity for stability and, as Mike Scott would say, to “cash out.”
He has that now after signing a five-year, $180 million deal. It’s the richest contract in Sixers franchise history. With that come expectations for Harris and the Sixers. The team is banking on the 27-year-old to continue his NBA ascension and help realize their championship aspirations.
And Harris believes he’s ready to accept that challenge.
The press conference at the team’s practice facility last Friday welcomed Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Kyle O’Quinn and Raul Neto and welcomed back Harris and James Ennis. Harris’ role on the court became a big topic.
When Harris arrived from the Clippers, he was coming into a situation where Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and JJ Redick were established and Brett Brown was still trying to figure out how to use Jimmy Butler. With Butler in Miami and Redick in New Orleans, the pecking order has changed.
While it probably wasn’t fair to expect Harris to fit seamlessly into that situation in just 27 regular season games — many without a healthy Embiid — he’ll have an entire offseason and training camp to assume a larger role.
I know last year, when you come over from a trade, with the talent level of this group, obviously had to sacrifice for the unit,” Harris said. “But I know my game, I know how I continue to improve year after year, and I look to come into next year with that type of energy, that type of fire to improve my game and show different parts of my game, too. Obviously being more with the ball in my hands in different situations, and I'm ready for that. I've been working out all summer to get ready for that position, just to help our team grow and get further than we were last year and contend for a championship. That's the only thing on my mind.
The idea of giving Harris a max contract — granted he took $10 million below the max — wasn’t necessarily a no-brainer. He’s never been an All-Star and last season was just the second time he’s been to the postseason and the first time his team advanced beyond the first round.
But the Sixers are counting on Harris to continue his trajectory. Last year was easily his finest NBA season. If he’d spent the whole year in the East, he likely would’ve played in his first All-Star game. He scored a career-high 20 points a game and shot just below 40 percent from three. There’s a reason Elton Brand paid a hefty price to acquire Harris.
It certainly didn’t go as planned for Harris and the Sixers. Harris was inconsistent both in the regular season and playoffs, but his postseason performance was especially marred by a rough Game 4 against the Raptors in which he shot just 7 of 23 and 2 of 13 from three. A couple more makes and perhaps the Sixers would’ve returned to Toronto with a commanding 3-1 lead.
Did the pieces ever quite fit for the Sixers last season?
Not as well as they should've,” Harris said. “We had good little spurts of it but they weren't really consistent for us. I felt like what we got out of it as much as we could've in that timeframe with the different types of games, different types of personalities or whatnot. We needed more time. We needed more time, we needed more cohesiveness. That's something that we have now, so we have to really maximize that fully.
Butler was tremendous in the playoffs as a shot creator and clutch shot maker and Redick played a critical role in the Sixers’ offense.
But “the different types of games” and “personalities” should help Harris flourish. Replacing Butler and Redick with Horford and Richardson will likely help with ball movement, something Harris has said since he arrived in Philadelphia that he thrived with.
At times toward the end of the season, Harris did initiate the offense occasionally. He showed an ability to run the pick-and-roll as a ball handler — something Brown hasn’t run a ton of in the past, but did with Butler. There also could be potential with Harris to run a little of the two-man game with Embiid. Embiid and Redick were deadly using dribble handoffs. If Harris shoots at the level he did in Los Angeles, running that with Embiid could be equally lethal.
Harris is ready to assume a similar role to Butler, but also sees an opportunity for his teammates to shine in clutch situations.
A lot of times what we ran for Jimmy was high screen-and-roll, put the ball in his hands,” Harris said. “I've been best with the ball in my hands for some years now. I definitely think of myself as being that person with the ball in their hands. I look at us as a team, also. I think if a guy has it going or there's a mismatch, we can excel at that. That's what I really work for, those type of moments and opportunities.
So now he has stability. He secured the bag, as the kids say. He’s also looking at a role as one of the team’s focal points offensively.
There's certainly added pressure, but in Harris’ case, change is good.
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