It was a little before 1:30 in the morning when Tobias Harris found out he was moving again.
Harris, midway through a six-game road trip with the Clippers, was watching Netflix in his hotel room when he got the call from coach Doc Rivers in early February that he was being sent to the Philadelphia 76ers.
On one level, this was nothing new. Having been traded five times in eight seasons, Harris knew the drill. But on another level, he knew it could turn out to be something totally different.
Harris, who grew up in Dix Hills, finally may find a home in Philadelphia. What happens this postseason — whether he is able to help the talent-laden 76ers survive a tough first-round series with the Nets and then go deep into the playoffs — will go a long way in determining that.
Harris, a 6-9 forward, could have signed an $80 million contract extension with the Clippers this past offseason, but instead elected to play out his final year and become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Part of the reason for that decision is that he believes he can command a max contract. But another part of the reason is he is tired of those middle-of-the-night phone calls, tired of someone else telling him where he is going to work.
"I wanted to bet on myself and I wanted to be able to make the decision on where I’m going to be,” said Harris, a former prep standout at Half Hollow Hills West and Long Island Lutheran, before the start of the Nets series.
So far, it’s turned out to be a pretty good bet.
Harris is coming off the best season of his career, despite failing to make the All-Star Game in a crowded Western Conference. Harris averaged 20.0 points and 7.0 rebounds total for the season. In 27 regular season games in Philadelphia, he averaged 18.2 points, tying him with Jimmy Butler as Philadelphia’s second-leading scorer, behind Joel Embiid, who averaged 27.5.
Harris has been on some pretty good teams, like this year’s Clippers. And some pretty terrible ones, like the 23-win Magic in 2013-14. Until Monday night, however, he had never won a playoff game, His sole postseason experience coming with the Pistons team that was swept by LeBron James and Cleveland in the first round of the 2016 playoffs.
"Tobias has been on some teams that weren’t committed to winning,” said Torrel Harris, Tobias’ father and agent. “Tobias is going into his prime now. He wants to be on a team that is all about winning a championship. That’s what he put in all this hard work for.”
Philadelphia, which will play the Nets at the Barclays Center in Game 3 Thursday night, is by far the most talented team Harris has been on. When the Sixers traded for Butler earlier in the season and then made a deal for Harris, it was a clear signal that “the process” and been replaced by “the present.” With the most talented starting lineup east of Golden State, the 76ers are ready to win now.
It was evident in the team’s Game 1 loss to the Nets that the 76ers are a team that is still learning to play together. Harris — and almost every Sixer not named Butler — had an awful shooting performance in Game 1. Harris’ struggles bled into the first half of Game 2, before he had a breakout third period, scoring 12 points on 3-for-4 shooting, including making his only three and hitting all five free throws.
"Tobias' offense, we needed all of that,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “Combine that with his defense, he was significant.”
At the end of the season, the 76ers will have to take a hard look and decide how significant.
Though neither Philadelphia nor Harris have made any guarantees about what is going to happen this summer, it’s hard to believe that general manager Elton Brand would have given up as much as he did — two future first-round picks and rookie Landry Shamet — just to rent Harris for half a season and the playoffs.
Both Harris and Butler are unrestricted free agents and in the position to sign max contracts. Philadelphia owns the Bird rights on each, meaning the team can go over the cap and sign both, though it’s hard to imagine that happening if they don't go deep into the playoffs. Sixers managing partner Josh Harris told reporters before Game 1 that he was hopeful that Butler and Harris “will be playing with us for a long, long time.”
That’s something Harris certainly wouldn’t mind, especially if the 76ers can contend on a regular basis for an Eastern Conference title.
“I see great potential for us," Harris said. "I’m pretty excited.”
THE TRAVELS OF TOBIAS
Tobias Harris’ many basketball homes:
Half Hollow Hills West (2006-08, 2009-2010)
Long Island Lutheran (2008-09)
*Harris’ rights had been owned by the New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Bobcats before he ever played an NBA game. He was drafted in 2011 by the Bobcats with the 19th pick and traded to the Bucks.