There was another time when the Philadelphia 76ers had to decide whether to pay a lot of money to a player who might not be up to that level, or risk losing it. With this decision, Tobias Harris made more money than any other Sixer in the last three years.
The contractual situation with James Harden is eerily similar to the circumstances surrounding this case Tobias Harris summer 2019. Sixers’managementduring this time, he moved all-in on the 6-foot striker and awarded him a five-year, $180 million contract.
The contract has been a millstone around the neck of the Sixers pay cap since it was signed. Harris was the team’s fourth option in attack last season, but its highest-paid player with $37.6 million, more than Harden or Joel Embiid.
Harris will receive $39.2 million next season, in the final year of his contract. Because of this large sum, even if Harden leaves, the Sixers are still over the salary cap and cannot sign a big-name free agent to replace Harden.
Why was Tobias Harris signed for so much money by the Philadelphia 76ers?
If you recall, 2019 was the season of Kawhi Leonard’s four-rebound shot that knocked out the Sixers in Game 7 of the Eastern Semifinals.
Harris and later Jimmy Butler were brought in by general manager Elton Brand during the season to win the title.
In terms of caps, the Sixers were unable to keep both Butler and Harris. When Butler left for Miami (which we knew at the time, it was a big mistake on his part because the Sixers much better in the playoffs than the Heat in the future), had the Sixers subsequently lost Harris, all the players and valuable draft capital spent on acquiring them would have been wasted.
Harris and his clever father-agent knew how terrible it would look if Harris also moved to another team and made a deal. The three blind Sixers mice who run the case agreed to a huge contract, and that’s how we are now.
Harris was a good player for the Sixers, even having a borderline All-Star season in 2021, but he wasn’t worth the money spent on him. But the Sixers were worried about the optics (and perhaps retaining season pass holders), rather than looking at the long-term implications.
There are similarities between the Harden and Harris situations
To keep James Harden, the Sixers will likely have to pay him more than he is worth in terms of value, similar to what Tobias Harris did in 2019.
Now there are some differences:
- Harris was entering the peak of his career at 27, Harden is in the red as he will soon turn 34, and it’s not like he’s staying in great shape.
- The Sixers thought that with young players like Embiid, Ben Simmons and Harris, they would compete for years. Harden’s return is just a waste of what they have now. Apart from Tyres Maxey, the Sixers have no promising young players.
- There is no either/or in this situation, as in Butler vs. Harris. With limited cap space (thanks to the Harris deal), whether Harden leaves or stays has no impact on the other players in the current lineup.
Harden stays with the Philadelphia 76ers if they do one thing
We know what James Harden would like: a maximum contract for $211 million over four years. The question for President Daryl Morey and owner Josh Harris is whether it’s worth it.
If they give Harden the maximum offer, he will no doubt stay, anything less, and then things get vague. Assuming he declines his option, Harden will be a free agent, he can sign anyone. What would be the market for a 34-year-old who wants to be the center of attention in attack, is not good at defense but just led the league in assists, is a conundrum Morey and Josh Harris have.
The options are obvious:
- Completely panic that they will look bad if Harden walks in vain and no replacement is in sight. Like the Sixers in 2019 (and remember owner and current CEO Elton Brand in a much lesser role were there at the time), they could just bend over and give Harden what he wants and worry about what will happen three years later, way later.
- Play a dangerous game of waiting, see if Houston’s interest is real and if anyone else in the NBA is biting. You can make him agree to a shorter contract, like two years or less money, but you can also see him leave for free.
That Tobias Harris is a good player is beyond question. He is a good player in the dressing room and, to be honest, he has shown more flexibility in his game than ever when he was given a big contract.
(It should also be noted that while Embiid and Harden were falling apart in Game 7 against Boston, Harris led the team with 19 points after shooting 7-for-13 successfully)
But a big contract is not Harris level. Yes, it saved the 2019 management from embarrassment at the time, but he has been shown not to be a needle mover as the Sixers are still in the second round of eliminations.
Will the Sixers remember this lesson or cave to do what is convenient and easy and sign Harden to a big contract and congratulate themselves for once again putting a millstone on the neck of their future salary cap?