The Philadelphia 76’ers aren’t playing around, are they?
Reports say the team from the City of Brotherly Love has added Tobias Harris, his best friend Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott in a trade for rookie Landry Shamet, the rapidly decaying corpse of Wilson Chandler, Mike Scott’s spiritual twin Mike Muscala and picks.
Harris is the real prize here. If “Tobi” was playing in the East he’d be a sure-fire All-Star. Harris is basically putting up 21/8/3 on .494/.434/.877 splits. The man is a goddamn menace, and his shooting ability means that, unlike any of the current Philly Big Three, he’s a real weapon without the ball in his hands. (I still think there are some fit issues. Harris is very good with the ball in his hands, and as we’ve seen and heard Jimmy Butler isn’t such a big fan of sharing the round thing.)
Harris is also a free-agent to be, but the Sixers seem very confident of signing him — and creating their own Big Four. The smarter long-term play here could be to see how Harris meshes with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and if Philly feels he’s a more natural fit, then they could send Butler out somewhere on a sign-and-trade to recoup a couple of assets, keep their sheet a bit cleaner, and, you know, not tether themselves to the soon to be 30+ year-old basketball-playing version of the old guy who yells at the kids to stay off his lawn.
“But Conor”, you say, “your headline seemed to indicate something about how this could help the Raptors? This all sounds like really bad shit.”
Too true. So let me get to the point.
The Clippers are supposed to be a big player for Kawhi Leonard, right? Tobias Harris was the best player on their team, right? They’ve now traded him for three dudes who may be nothing more than deep rotation pieces on a good team, and one MAYBE good stab at a star in the draft in the unprotected 2021 Miami pick.
The move did nothing to hurt or improve their cap sheet. Everyone involved is a free-agent this off-season. Right now, the Clips are all Danilo Gallinari, Avery Bradley, expiring players and young kids. They have tons of flexibility.
But what the move does do, is make their margin for error thinner, Kawhi Leonard-speaking that is.
One way to look at this is that letting go of Harris now means the Clippers are very confident they are getting Kawhi and another star. Otherwise, why not extend Harris and make him that other star if need-be? Harris is certainly good enough to be the third option on a very good team, and maybe even the #2 guy.
That confidence could be fatal. If we’ve learned anything in the past couple of years is that players change their minds very quickly. What if Kawhi wants to go to LA, but nobody else does? Or at least nobody else game-changing?
Does Kawhi want to be the head of the snake of a team featuring Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lou Williams, and injury prone Gallinari and, say, DeMarcus Cousins? What if Jimmy Butler is the back-up prize (oh, the hilarity)? Kemba Walker? Is that appealing enough to potentially leave a Raptors team that made the Finals or Conference Finals, and can run it back?
Just because the Clippers can sign two free agents this summer, doesn’t mean they will.
Perhaps Kawhi has already talked to a preferred running mate and they’ve made plans, but, does Kawhi do that? It seems really off-brand. And without that, Kawhi, or another star, is going to be left having to recruit/hope that that second star does come to the Clippers.
Basically, without Harris, the Clips have no guaranteed “you want to play with this guy” talent to tempt Kawhi with.
Sure, Gilgeous-Alexander looks real good, but maybe he gets hurt, or plateaus. That Miami pick could be a game-changer, it also could be a run-of-the-mill pick in the mid-teens. Miami has no incentive to bottom out for it. It’s also two drafts away. Which means if it isn’t a top-3 sort of pick, whoever is selected with it might be a couple of seasons away from being a contributor regardless.
Toronto has Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas, their own cadre of good young talent, and, in a year’s time, oodles of cap-space when Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry come off the books, to bring their own #2 guy in.
Meanwhile, there’s also the Knicks to consider here — not as a Kawhi destination, but they just opened up two max free agent slots too. Are there enough max players to go around? Someone is gonna lose out.
Now, maybe Harris has a handshake deal to come right back to the Clippers first, giving Kawhi that comfort, and allowing the Clips to, say, flip Gallinari to open up the space needed to still go after two stars.
If that’s the case this is brilliant all-over and the Raps position has become more tenuous, both because beating Philly will be harder and because the Clips just made themselves look like a better landing spot. But that’s a big if.
Overall, the Clips could have over-played their hand here. In search of future assets, they might just have made themselves look a little less enticing for Kawhi.
It’s still up for the Raps to play well enough that it matters, but that little bit, could end up meaning a lot to the Raptors’ future.