The 76ers moved to the top of many Philadelphia sports fans’ list of which team will win the next world championship after they pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, right at the trading deadline.
The Sixers landed sweet-shooting forward Tobias Harris from the Clippers in exchange for a boatload of assets the 76ers have been collecting for years.
The six-player trade sent rookie standout Landry Shamet, plus bigs Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, the Sixers’ 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected for three years), the Heat’s 2021 first-round pick and the Sixers’ 2021 and 2023 second-round picks to the Clippers.
The Sixers also got 7-foot-3 rim protector Boban Marjanovic and power forward Mike Scott.
The 76ers also shipped No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has been held back by injuries and confidence issues since he arrived two years ago, to the Orlando Magic.
The Magic sent forward Jonathon Simmons, a protected 2020 first-round pick (via Oklahoma City) and a 2019 second-round pick to the Sixers.
Rookie general manager Elton Brand did not hide the Sixers’ intention to go for an NBA title now.
“We believe we are in position to contend now,” Brand said at his post-trade news conference. “And our moves reflect that belief.”
Harris came to Philadelphia sporting a career-high 20.9 points per game, 7.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists and is shooting career highs from the field (49.6 percent) and on 3-pointers (43.4 percent).
Brand said Harris was at or near the top of his list of A-list players he wanted to go after.
“We had to add a player like that when we had the opportunity,” he said. “We had targeted him as a player we would want if he became available, and we coveted him. We know he fits great into our system and he’ll do well.”
The Sixers unveiled their new starting lineup last Friday against the Denver Nuggets, who came to the Wells Fargo Center holding on to the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference.
Harris scored 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor, 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. He pulled down eight rebounds and dished out three assists in the Sixers’ 117-110 win over the Nuggets in front of a packed house that clearly loved their team’s recent roster moves.
The 26-year-old said he was thrilled with his first performance in front of Philadelphia fans.
“You couldn’t ask for any better,” Harris said at his post-game news conference. “To come out and play a game like that, to get that type of reaction from the fans, that meant a whole lot to me. To beat a very good team…that team is no joke. That was a good game for us. We got a great effort from a lot of guys tonight. For me, personally, it was fun, it was fun.”
Two days later, the Sixers hosted LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. The result was a convincing 143-120 win over their Western Conference rivals.
Harris had 22 points, six rebounds, six assists and one block in 29 minutes of play.
After the game, Harris was again reflective about his new home and situation.
“I’ve been in a lot of different situations throughout my whole career,” Harris said. “Something like I said last game, every new situation you just want to come in and kind of play off the love of the game and let everything else flow from there. I’ve been able to get better year after year to be able to understand the game, understand my spots on the floor, understand how I can help a team. A lot goes into it when you’re in a new situation and just trying to fit in the right way. It’s got to be a good balance trying to fit in, but also be aggressive and to play your game. A lot of study, but it’s good because this is a really good team with really good players, great guys, great coach, great coaching staff and guys who want to help. That’s been, probably, the best part of it for me.”
Allowing 120 points is not going help the Sixers overtake Eastern rivals like the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks.
But coach Brett Brown likes a lot of what he sees so far after the first two games with his new starting lineup that many observers think is the best in the East. Harris is joined by all-stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons plus all-star caliber players J.J. Redick and Jimmy Butler.
“The 33 assists and, I think, a season-low eight turnovers in a game that was really kind of sloppy and they play with such a fast pace,” he said at the post-Lakers game news conference. “To come in with eight turnovers in that Sunday afternoon environment, like the first period was a video game, it wasn’t how we want to play defense. But the 33 assists and only eight turnovers in that flavor of a game, I like. I like the fact that they only had two fast-break points in the second half. I thought we did a better job of getting back and dealing with them in transition defense. After that, it’s a good win at home during a tough stretch we’ve been on and we’ll take it and get ready for Boston.”
Sixers fans are hoping their team is getting ready for a championship. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii