NEW YORK — The Los Angeles Clippers have an eclectic mix of experience and youth that has made them one of the NBA’s biggest surprises in the season’s first quarter.
And the oft-traded, always productive Tobias Harris has been leading the way for a team that’s in a tie for the top spot in the Western Conference. An unassuming star for a team many didn’t feel had an identity coming into the season is now quickly developing a reputation as one who plays harder than most.
Even though Harris, 26, is the only player in the league averaging more than 20 points and eight rebounds, and shooting 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from the 3-point line, he still had to endure speculation that he was on the trading block during the Jimmy Butler saga.
From the outside looking in, it’s hard to compute for the eight-year veteran. He’s improved his game every year, can play multiple positions in a positionless league and can score from anywhere, yet he’s been traded three times and his name keeps popping up in the rumor mill.
One couldn’t blame him if he were a little jaded about the business of basketball.
“It didn’t bother me. It was funny,” Harris told Yahoo Sports. “At the end of the day, I’m so well-equipped and well-suited for whatever’s next that nothing will ever surprise me.”
As comical as it may have been, he went directly to the Clippers front office and coach Doc Rivers for clarity. He mentally prepared himself for harsh truths, that as a player who turned down a lucrative extension in the offseason he would be vulnerable in trade talks.
Rivers knew Harris was concerned, but he was pretty confident nothing would happen concerning Harris.
“It is hard, but you have to be honest and there’s times when you tell [players], ‘I can’t tell you.’ I tell guys that,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “But with Tobias it was easy. I was pretty confident he wasn’t going anywhere. That one wasn’t that hard for us. We love Tobias. And we think he’s part of our future here.”
The Clippers were interested in Butler before he was traded from Minnesota, league sources told Yahoo, but they envisioned Harris and Butler working together, not being swapped for one another.
“He’s a professional,” a member of the Clippers’ staff told Yahoo. “He takes care of his body, he’s about the right things even when nobody’s watching. He’s a great example for our young guys.”
But that praise can fall on deaf ears if you believe your team is looking to move you.
“At that moment you can feel unappreciated. When I got traded from Detroit, I got that feeling a little bit,” Harris said. “It wasn’t the deal of who was in the trade, but I gave my all every single game to bring this team together. Keeping guys mentally right through ups and downs, doing everything I was supposed to do.”
Harris was included in the January 2018 deal that sent franchise mainstay Blake Griffin and his massive contract to the Pistons, which incidentally, jump-started the Clippers’ rebrand from a team that perpetually underachieved to a scrappy bunch that is flexible on the floor and has plenty of flexibility off it, with cap space for two max players this offseason.
Harris could very well take up one of those slots if his fine play continues.
Guards Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley bring some chippiness in the backcourt, while Montrezl Harrell has improved massively with physical play and toughness up front. Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams can all score 30 on a given night, making the Clippers a tough team to prepare for.
But it’s easy to see how Harris makes them go and why he is a matchup nightmare on offense. It’s a team he can see himself growing with, but he also knows the other side of the game.
“A team like this, there’s a great combination of older vets and younger players,” Harris said. “At this point, I look [at] whatever my value is, that’s what it’s gonna be. Every day I’m here, every game I’m here, help this team win. All the other stuff will handle itself out.”
Talking the talk
“It wasn’t new to us … maybe it is to the Toronto fans or maybe their GM, but not to us.”
— Detroit forward Blake Griffin on coach Dwane Casey’s play-calling as the Pistons beat the Raptors at the buzzer in Toronto on Nov. 14. It was Casey’s return after being fired by the Raptors last spring.
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