CAMDEN — When the Philadelphia 76ers played offense last season, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler would dribble across halfcourt looking to create shots for themselves and teammates.
Joel Embiid was always the No. 1 option. J.J. Redick was available running off screens for 3-pointers.
Only occasionally did the ball find its way to Tobias Harris early in the shot clock.
That is expected to change this season.
Players who sign five-year, $180 million contracts, like Harris did, aren’t fourth or fifth options.
“You’re going to see his growth,” Sixers general manager Elton Band said of Harris. “He’s going to have the ball. He’s going to be able to do things that he may have not shown (last season).”
The Sixers celebrated their offseason moves with a news conference at their training facility Friday. Harris, 26, was front and center and the first player Brand mentioned.
The 6-foot-9 forward seemed to relish the stability his new contract gives him.
“I know my game,” Harris said. “I know how I continue to improve year after year. I look to come into next year with that type of energy, that type of fire, to improve my game and to just show different parts of my game, too. Obviously, I’ll be more with the ball in my hands in different situations, and I’m ready for that.”
Harris found himsef in a difficult situation last season.
The Sixers acquired him in a February trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. Harris averaged 18.2 points in 27 regular-season games and 15.5 points in the playoffs for Philadelphia.
But his usage rate (the estimated number of team plays a player was involved in) fell from 23.5% with the Clippers to 21.3% with the Sixers. Harris’ usage rate dipped to 18.8% in the postseason.
“When you come over from a trade, and with the talent level in the group, obviously (I) had to sacrifice for the unit,” Harris said.
Last season’s starting five of Harris, Embiid, Simmons and Butler and Redick rarely played together because of injury. Still, the Sixers advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals, which they lost in seven games to the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors.
When things went wrong, Harris drew some criticism. He struggled shooting against Toronto, sinking just 26% (11 of 43) of his 3-point attempts.
“We had very good spurts, but they really weren’t sustainable,” Harris said of last season. “I feel like we got out of it as much as we could have in that time frame with the different types of games and personalities. But we just needed more time, more cohesiveness. That’s something we have now.”
Butler is now in Miami as part of sign-and-trade deal Philadelphia worked out with the Heat. Redick signed as a free agent with New Orleans.
The Sixers decided Harris is one of the players around whom they want to build. It’s not only his youth and his ability to shoot 3-pointers and finish at the rim that the team likes. Harris is also well known for the charity work he does, especially in his Long Island, New York, hometown. Brand described Harris as a community ambassador.
The new contract also finally gives Harris a basketball home. He has played with five teams in his eight-year career.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve been in different situations,” he said. “It was a win-win to come to Philadelphia and be in a situation where I can continue to develop and to be somewhere to win for many years to come. I signed a five-year deal, so I hope to finish my career here.”
Harris seems poised to take a more active role not only on the court but off it.
He’s already worked out with Simmons in Los Angeles this offseason. Harris said he dared Simmons to shoot from the 3-point line. Simmons, who famously is reluctant to shoot from the perimeter, made two in a row, according to Harris.
Harris has also been somewhat of mentor to newly acquired guard Josh Richardson as both played at the University of Tennessee.
Some of Harris’ teammates sound as if they might get a phone call from him this summer with an invitation to work out. He wants the team to have fun and play together, and those words don’t just sound like tired clichés when Harris speaks them.
“I take a lot of ownership in that,” he said. “Obviously, this thing is going to take time with chemistry as a group, but this is going to be a team that loves to play with one another on the floor.”