Although Jimmy Butler is reportedly headed to Miami in a sign-and-trade, the Sixers have locked down the other half of their big midseason all-in play, agreeing to a massive five-year, $180 million deal with Tobias Harris, locking in the 26-year-old as a pricy long-term running mate for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The Sixers lost J.J. Redick to the Pelicans on Sunday, which actually helped facilitate the Butler sign-and-trade —Philly will bring in Josh Richardson as part of that deal, per reports. The Sixers will also sign Al Horford to a four-year deal, per reports. But at face value, this is an extremely high price to pay for Harris, a player who, strictly on production, may have a difficult time living up to his massive salary.
Inarguably, Harris has made major strides over the past couple seasons, coming into bloom with the Clippers only after being traded three times. He then was dealt to the Sixers at the deadline in exchange for a steep price, including Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick, a lottery protected 2020 first, and impressive young guard Landry Shamet. As it turned out, that price would seem to have made it all the more difficult for the 76ers to let Harris walk, and so now they’re handing him big money, just short of a full five-year max contract, but still a whole lot of money. He shot nearly 40% from three last season, brings real versatility on offense, and offered complementary production in the playoffs, although not to the same degree. He’s good, but is he $180 million for five years good? We’ll find out, but hopefully not in the context of the contract inhibiting Philly’s ability to improve their roster.
The issue here has less to do with Harris’s talent than it does with the operational logic for the Sixers, who were on the precipice of the Eastern Conference finals this spring. Watching Butler walk after all that is going to sting. Paying Harris this much money—just $10 million less than the Warriors are paying Klay Thompson, and more than the Mavericks are paying Kristaps Porzingis over the same time period, for contrast—could hurt even more, limiting Philadelphia’s flexibility to build around Embiid and Simmons (the latter of whom is reportedly moving toward a long-term extension with the team). Harris is versatile and fits with those guys, but what the Sixers really need is another dribble-centric shot-creator to help Simmons when things stall, and they might be hard-pressed to find that guy if Butler indeed departs. Essentially, they might shifting a lot of weight onto Simmons’ young shoulders in crunch time going forward even with Richardson inbound. That’s a gamble unto itself, given his jump shooting woes.
In a vacuum, the Sixers had to spend to stay competitive. Their cap situation made re-signing their own guys more attractive, as opposed to courting free agents and introducing an added flight risk. But the potentially prohibitive long-term cost of adding Harris, particularly with Embiid and Simmons still not fully-formed, could be something Philadelphia looks back at with some degree of frustration in due time. Pivoting from any contract that large is always a challenge. Figuring in four years for Horford means the Sixers are more or less set with this group.
In some ways, the Sixers backed themselves into a corner by going shopping in February. They kind of had to keep Harris to justify all they gave up to get him. As far as mega-deals have gone so far, this is one that’s hard to feel thatgreat about given the circumstances. And although Harris is inarguably a strong fit with the Sixers, to justify the price tag, they’re going to have to win big at some point. The hope is that this investment aids that process, as opposed to hamstringing it. The other moves Philly made on Sunday should facilitate that, but the Harris number itself might be one we nitpick down the road.