The Philadelphia 76ers have a long and storied NBA history. For younger generations though, the team is likely remembered most for “The Process Era”, a period during the early 2010s when the players the Sixers put out on the court were a revolving door of mediocrity.
Those were dark times, but there may be some even darker one-off moments in franchise history. In the following slides, I will present the 8 worst free-agent signings the Philadelphia 76ers have made since inception. The term ‘worst’ is subjective so for clarification’s sake the key factors considered are the production of the player at the point they signed with the Sixers compared to the price and length of the contract signed. This is not just about the player themself, but the combination of their impact on the team when considering the contract signed.
8. Tobias Harris
I was not sure if I was going to include Tobias Harris on this list as the free-agent contract he signed has not ended yet, but I still think it is fair to have him here. Unless you live under a rock, you know the first criticism of Harris always starts with his contract with the Sixers so let’s dive in.
Harris was drafted 19th overall in the 2011 draft and was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks on draft night. He was a really good player at the University of Tennessee and left for the NBA after his freshman year there. Harris did not get much playing time during his first couple of years in Milwaukee and early on it seemed like he would be a project that needed some work to get NBA-ready.
In his second season, he was traded to the Orlando Magic, who had a lot more available minutes in the rotation for Harris. He quickly went from averaging 5 points per game in 11 minutes with the Bucks to scoring 17+ points in 36 minutes and starting most of the Magic’s remaining games. Orlando was Harris’ coming out party and after four seasons of being a consistent starter and having recently re-signed with them, it was a surprise he was traded to the Detroit Pistons in 2016.
Harris played parts of three seasons in Detroit and two with the Los Angeles Clippers before the Philadelphia 76ers traded for him. Prior to Philly, Harris’s career-high single-season averages were 20.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. He was an established veteran starter in the league when Philly traded for him and that is exactly what the Sixers needed to help take this team to the next level.
The problem is Harris had an expiring contract that summer, as did Jimmy Butler who had been recently acquired. In the summer of 2019, Butler left for the Miami Heat and the Sixers were almost forced to re-sign Harris so that two starters did not essentially walk for nothing. That is when the franchise made Tobias Harris the highest-paid player on a roster that included Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, both All-Stars at the time. The contract was for 5 years and an astronomical $180 million.
Throughout the first three years of this contract, Tobias has continued being a quality NBA starter, averaging between 17 to 20 points and 6 to 8 rebounds per game. He is a good player and definitely can be a lower-tier starter for a Championship team. That is not the discussion though. Harris was paid as a number one player on a team and he was not that. From the day he signed his name on the dotted line he was destined for perpetual criticism by the Philadelphia media.
This season, his fourth of five on the contract, his production has dropped and he is down to 14.9 points and 5.9 rebounds. Harris is likely finding difficulty playing alongside Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey and being a fourth option, but that is probably what he should be on a team with title aspirations. Harris still has one more season after this one on his contract, but no matter what happens, he has to be included on a list of worst free-agent signings.