Reports: Sixers acquire Tobias Harris from Clippers in massive pre-deadline trade

Tobias Harris is off to Philadelphia, where he’ll slot into what just became the Eastern Conference’s best starting five. (Getty)
Tobias Harris is off to Philadelphia, where he’ll slot into what just became the Eastern Conference’s best starting five. (Getty)

The Philadelphia 76ers pulled off their second blockbuster trade of the 2018-19 season late Tuesday night, agreeing to send multiple players and draft picks to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for forward Tobias Harris, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Sixers will also acquire center Boban Marjanovic and forward Mike Scott in the deal.

In return, they will give up starting forward Wilson Chandler; two key bench pieces, Mike Muscala and Landry Shamet; and their most coveted draft asset, the Miami Heat’s unprotected first round pick in 2021.

The Clippers will also reportedly receive Philadelphia’s 2020 first-rounder – lottery protected for three years – and two second-rounders.

The Sixers go all in

The main story here, of course, is Philly’s pursuit of a ring. Three months after swinging a win-now deal for Jimmy Butler, first-year GM Elton Brand has gone all in, swapping the most valuable pick in his arsenal and one of the league’s most unheralded rookies for yet another player on the last year of his contract.

In the short-term, the Sixers’ roster becomes a more extreme version of itself. Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Butler, Harris and Joel Embiid become the Eastern Conference’s best lineup – and, on paper, probably the second-best five-man group in the entire league.

On the other hand, the shallowest of the East contenders just got even shallower. But the Sixers may have more moves up their sleeve, either on the trade market or the buyout market. Depth can be found. Versatile, sharp-shooting, All-Star-caliber forwards, meanwhile, don’t grow on trees.

That’s what Harris is. He’s also, in theory, an excellent fit next to Simmons and Embiid. Harris is a relatively-high-usage 42 percent 3-point shooter who’ll be able to play off the ball. He’ll give Philly’s two bonafide young stars more room to operate around the rim, which is where they both excel. He’ll also be able to play and guard multiple positions, giving head coach Brett Brown more flexibility.

The real question is: What is the Sixers’ plan beyond June?

Will the Sixers re-sign both Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler?

There are multiple ways to interpret this move as it pertains to Philly’s future. One interpretation – which, per Wojnarowski’s reporting, is the correct one – is that the Sixers are preparing to spend big and lock in a four-player core for years to come:

Harris, 26, and Butler, 29, will both become unrestricted free agents on July 1. Simmons will also be extension-eligible, and will surely get the max. Harris and Butler, both fringe-top-25 NBA players, will at least come close.

But the Sixers can go over the salary cap and into the luxury tax to retain players that are now their own. Doing so would relinquish any remaining cap flexibility for years to come. But Philly was unlikely to be in a position to add one last big-time piece to their core via free agency anyway. Brand realized he had to land the final major piece via trade. He found a partner eyeing up that Miami pick. And he pulled the trigger.

Another interpretation here is that the Sixers, after spending three up-and-down months with Butler, have soured on the prospect of offering the confrontational wing a gargantuan five-year deal; and that they have now instead chosen Harris as their third star long-term. After initial reports that Butler planned to re-up with the Sixers come summer, there have been rumblings that he will explore his options. He and Philly might ultimately both be better off going their separate ways. (A lot will depend on the playoffs.)

In that case, Harris could replace Butler in Philadelphia’s future plans. That is, if he wants to. Harris, like Butler, will have his pick of all 30 teams. The Brooklyn Nets and others may yet have a say. But Philly, at the very least, just jumped to pole position.

So either way, the trade makes sense for the Sixers. And it makes a ton of sense for the Clippers, too.

Why the Clippers traded Harris

It might not be outright tanking. Because the Clippers, even without Harris, will still be a competitive Western Conference team. But if, say, the Cavs or Knicks gave up a star to A) acquire four draft picks and a sneaky-good rookie, B) improve their own 2019 draft standing, and C) position themselves for a run at a superstar(s?), the term might apply. The Clippers are doing all of that, except from a higher perch.

This is an A-plus trade for L.A., which currently holds a tenuous grip on the 8-seed out west. The cost here is a half-season of Harris for a playoff race that is turning against the Clippers (and that they might not even want to win). It’s also an advantageous position in a hypothetical bid to re-sign Harris. But the Clips seem to have their sights set higher.

The benefit is a bevy of picks that could make the other Los Angeles team a real player in the Anthony David trade sweepstakes – or in the hunt for any other elite players that become available via trade. The Clippers were one of four teams on Davis’ list of preferred destinations. And of those four teams – Clippers, Lakers, Knicks and Bucks – the Clippers might now have the best package to offer New Orleans. But this isn’t all about AD; it’s about stocking the cupboard, piece by piece.

Because not only do the Clippers now have that 2021 Heat pick; they undercut their chances at a 2019 playoff berth. That’s important, because the Clips owe the Celtics a lottery-protected first-rounder. Steal the 8-seed, and a pick in the 16 or 17 range goes to Boston. Fall out of the playoffs, however, and a pick likely in the 12 or 13 range stays in L.A. That could make a big difference if and when the Clippers decide to pursue a star.

Oh, and by the way: Shamet, the 26th pick in the 2018 draft, has shown tremendous growth over his first four months in the league. He’s shooting north of 40 percent from 3, and has developed his all-around game. He’s a shrewd pickup for L.A., and a not-insignificant loss for Philly.

Will this trade spur more activity?

Could it up the ante in the East, forcing Toronto or Boston to make a similar win-now move? Do the Sixers have another rotation-filling trade in them? The Clippers now have a boatload picks; might they flip a few now? Or is their big move a summer one?

Nobody knows, which is why the final 48 hours before the trade deadline are so gripping. The window shuts at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday.

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