Parting With $180M Star Remains Sixers ‘Ideal’ Scenario, Says Analyst

Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers

Getty Tobias Harris #12 of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Philadelphia 76ers are somewhere in the middle. And no, the middle isn’t a bad place to be.

The team isn’t “aging” — just look at the relative youth of Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. But the team is by no means green, either — see the grizzled and experienced PJ Tucker and James Harden, for example.

No, the Sixers are somewhere in the middle, caught between a past marked by “unfinished business” and a future that hopefully includes a championship. Embiid is in his prime, and Maxey still likely a few years away from his. But what can the team expect from Harden, who struggled through injury and, even worse, apathy for parts of last season? Ditto for PJ Tucker, who has played over 22,000 minutes over his 11-year career.

Then there is Tobias Harris, who, as John Wilmes of RealGM put it, is “in the middle of it all.” Harris isn’t young or old, not a past great or burgeoning one. He’s simply reliable. But according to Wilmes, that reliability only gets him so far. In fact, the perfect world would have Harris out of Philadelphia altogether.

“Without Harris, the roster does theoretically make more sense: imagine the big bruising frontcourt of Embiid and Tucker, complemented by the jarring contrast of Maxey and Melton’s athleticism, with all of it orchestrated by Harden’s shimmering basketball brain. That’s the ideal that the most optimistic of Sixers forecasters have in mind. And while that might end up being the most devastating look Philly can offer, the less romantic truth of Harris’ night-to-night numbers will help them win regular season games as long as he’s around,” Wilmes explained on September 16.

It’s true, Harris is a trusty regular-season performer. But he’s being paid like one of the Sixers’ go-to stars in crunch time. And it’s that behemoth of a contract that is holding up trade discussions.

Daryl Morey Has Shopped Tobias Harris All Summer

If the Sixers do try and get splashy, Harris almost certainly has to be included. Moving Harris would open up over $77 million in cap space, which Harris is owed over the next two seasons.  As it stands now, the Sixers have less than $1 million in space to negotiate with.

But Sixers GM Daryl Morey is not one to shy away from the mega-move. Just last season he held firm up to the trade deadline until James Harden became available, gleefully sending Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets to reunite with his former Rockets star.

And as Wilmes said, Harris is one “who’s been marked for exit for as long as Morey’s been around, but remains in place nonetheless.”

It’s no secret that Morey has shopped Harris. Earlier this summer, ESPN analyst and NBA insider Brian Windhorst reported that Philadelphia was dangling Harris in the trade market.

“I don’t think Philly will be done,” Windhorst said in late June. “We are hearing a lot about Tobias Harris in the trade market, so even after Philly looks at addressing some holes in free agency that this new contract from Harden opens, it wouldn’t surprise me if they look to do more work on their roster to build more around Harden and Embiid.”

Until Harris is traded, the Sixers likely won’t be trotting out Wilmes’ “ideal” Sixers lineup featuring Joel Embiid, De’Anthony Melton, PJ Tucker, Tyrese Maxey, and James Harden. Harris simply makes too much money.

Harris’ Contract Preventing a Sixers Trade

The reason why Harris is still a Sixer is likely two-fold. First, Morey hasn’t gotten a deal that he is satisfied with. He discussed not wanting to move Simmons for two-bit “role-players” last year and so he waited.

But the real reason he isn’t getting offers that he likes is because of Harris’ mammoth contract. Earlier in the summer, Heavy NBA insider Sean Deveny reported that teams around the league have little interest in signing their name on the bottom of a Tobias Harris check.

“They have exhausted every avenue on a Tobias deal,” an NBA executive told Deveney in July. “They overpaid him and no one wants that contract. That’s just the situation they’re in. They’ve been saying that Tobias Harris is not getting traded, but the reality is, he is not getting traded because they could not find a deal for him, not because they stopped trying.”

While the Sixers might be quiet heading into the season, look for Doc Rivers to try out that Harris-less lineup. And also know that Daryl Morey will be watching to see how that five-some stacks up to one with Harris included.

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