Tobias Harris sat in the visitors' locker room at Madison Square Garden checking – and then re-checking – the stack of tickets left in his name. Despite bouncing from Milwaukee to Orlando, from Detroit to Los Angeles, and then, last week, to his newest stop, with the 76ers in Philadelphia, there is no denying he’s still Long Island’s hometown star.
When he comes to play in New York, family and friends follow. So, too, does the notion that he wouldn’t mind staying in the city – with either team – on a more regular basis, when he hits free agency at the end of this season.
Harris Wednesday again declined to talk about all that. But the 76ers gave up a king’s ransom in players and draft picks for him just a week ago, and though it’s clear they’re in win-now mode, it also seems unlikely that general manager Elton Brand will give Harris up this offseason without a fight. Still, the ties run deep: The Harrises and the Atkinsons, two reigning families of Long Island basketball, already have a connection. Kenny Atkinson’s brother, Steve, coached Tobias’ little brother, Tyler, at Half Holllow Hills West, where Tobias played. And the respect between Tobias and Kenny appears to be mutual. Finally, both the Knicks and Nets could use the star power at power forward.
“They’re doing a great job,” Harris said when asked of what Atkinson was accomplishing across the way. “They’re playing really well. They have a lot of talent. D’Angelo Russell is playing great basketball, too, so they’re having a great season.”
In the meantime, though, Harris is already proving his worth to coach Brett Brown and company. His ability to spread the floor – and take some of the heat off JJ Redick – is already paying dividends, Brown said. He has the ability to make the players around him better, and when those players are the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, it makes the 76ers a uniquely intimidating team. Granted, the sample size is small. Harris entered Wednesday averaging 20.7 points and 7.8 rebounds. He scored 25 points with six rebounds and three assists to help lead a 126-111 victory over the Knicks.
“When you look at how do people match up with us now, last year JJ would get the MVP of whatever team’s defense we were playing and I think that at some point, maybe he is able to inherit a lesser defensive player,” Brown said. “They have to figure out a little bit deeper on who guards who. The spacing is obvious, but what I see is more about how they match up, as much as the benefit of having another great player like Tobias is.”
Harris, for his part, said the transition has gone well, and he’s excited to see how far the 76ers can go with their increasingly formidable lineup.
“I’m just going out playing my game and letting the game come to me the best way I can and just going out to really have fun out there,” he said before the game. “Obviously, we’re going to continue to grow game by game and get better and that’s the thing I look forward to the most, just seeing our growth as a unit.”
And sure, he said, it’s kind of nice being so close to home after being gone for so long.
“It’s all good,” he said. “It’s fun to be close to home – having family to be able to come down to games has been awesome. I’ve been happy to be able to see them and be here, so I’m happy with it.”