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Sixers offseason outlook: Contracts of Tobias Harris and Al Horford will make moves difficult

Philadelphia Inquirer logo Philadelphia Inquirer 9/17/2020 By Marc Narducci, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Al Horford playing a game of basketball: Al Horford has never fit into the Sixers rotation, but the organization paid big money for the big man and will struggle to find suitors this offseason. © YONG KIM/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS Al Horford has never fit into the Sixers rotation, but the organization paid big money for the big man and will struggle to find suitors this offseason.

After being swept by the Boston Celtics in four games during their opening-round playoff series, the 76ers will look to improve, but doing so will be difficult because of some of the high contracts that the team might want to unload but will be difficult to move.

a basketball player with a crowd watching: Tobias Harris struggled to carry the load in the absence of Ben Simmons during the Sixers' first-round playoff exit. © CHARLES FOX/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS Tobias Harris struggled to carry the load in the absence of Ben Simmons during the Sixers' first-round playoff exit.

The two most difficult contracts to trade belong to Tobias Harris and Al Horford. There could be an argument for keeping Harris as much as there is for trading him. As for Horford, there is no good statistical argument that suggests he will be an asset moving forward.

Both are high-character individuals, but in the NBA, it’s about production and winning — more precisely, being a winner in the postseason.

If Sixers fans had a vote, they would likely say that the team should shop both.

Good idea, although is it realistic? Here is a look at both players and the positives and negatives of keeping them.

Tobias Harris

Harris, who signed a five-year, $180 million deal in the summer before last season, will be entering only the second year of the contract. According to Hoopshype.com figures, he is slated to make $34,358,850 next season. The contract keeps escalating until it reaches $39.2 million in 2023-24.

Tobias Harris, Al Horford are posing for a picture: The Sixers have their hands tied this offseason after signing Tobias Harris and Al Horford (42) to big contracts. © YONG KIM/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS The Sixers have their hands tied this offseason after signing Tobias Harris and Al Horford (42) to big contracts.

For a player who has never earned an All-Star berth, that is a tough contract to carry, let alone try to trade. Harris turned 28 in July, but this was his ninth NBA season, which means the mileage is beginning to pile up.

One true positive is that Harris almost always answers the bell. This season, he played 72 of the Sixers' 73 games. From 2016-17 through 2018-19, he played in 82, 80 and 82 games, despite being traded during two of those three seasons.

This season, he finished 31st in the NBA in win shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player. According to Basketball-reference, he had 6.2 win shares. (James Harden led the NBA with 13.1 win shares.)

Harris had other impressive regular-season statistics. He averaged 19.6 points. He was a passable three-point shooter (36.7%) when the league average was 35.8%. Harris also shot 80.6% from the foul line, but averaged only three free throws per game. One of the knocks on him is that he doesn’t get to the foul line enough.

Where Harris has fallen short is in his two postseasons with the Sixers. In 12 games last year, he averaged 15.5 points, shot 34.9% from three-point range and averaged only 2.2 free throws.

In this year’s four games against Boston, he averaged 15.8 points, shooting 13.3% from distance. He did average 4.8 free throws, the result of driving more when not confident in his shot.

With Ben Simmons out for the postseason after knee surgery, Harris' offense was needed even more, but he wasn’t able to deliver.

One plus was surprisingly on the defensive end. According to NBA.com stats, Harris had more matchup minutes (12:41) against the Celtics' Jaylen Brown than any other player. Brown shot just 2-for-12, including 0-for-6 from three-point range, against Harris.

Al Horford

All season, Horford and Joel Embiid didn’t mesh when paired together. Horford, 34, is better at center, and when he played power forward, he was often lost on offense and defense.

According to Basketball-reference, when the two were on the court together in the regular season, the Sixers were outscored by 0.1 points per 100 possessions. When Embiid, Horford and Ben Simmons were on together, they were outscored by 1.0 points per 100 possessions.

In the playoffs, with Embiid and Horford paired together, the Sixers were outscored by 34.7 points per 100 possessions.

With Simmons out, Horford averaged 32.3 minutes in the four playoff games against his former Celtics teammates and averaged just 7.0 points and 7.3 rebounds, missing all four of his three-pointers. In the regular season, he averaged 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in 30.2 minutes.

Horford would be fine in his role as backup center, but not at that contract. He will earn $27.5 million next season and has $81 million with $69 guaranteed over the next three years.

The market for both

Even if teams like either player, taking on the contracts will be difficult without returning a similar contract. According to Hoopshype.com, Harris was tied for the 11th-highest salary in the NBA. Harris, former Sixer Jimmy Butler, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kawhi Leonard all earned $32,742,000. That is pretty exclusive territory.

A decent fit for Harris is the Los Angeles Lakers, who are still looking for a proven third scoring option. As for Horford, the best fit is his old Celtics team, who likely would have retained him if the price weren’t so prohibitive.

The Sixers would have to part with possibly multiple first-round draft picks to facilitate a trade for either. It will take some creative dealing to overcome the bloated contracts.

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©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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