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Tobias Harris believes he was ‘definitely underutilized’ with Sixers this past season

Like many angry young men, Tobias Harris tends to avoid eye contact when he’s peeved. From his heralded arrival in mid-February until the Sixers’ season died in Toronto in May, Harris used that gaze often. He took just nine shots that night in Toronto. As he entered free agency, that’s the memory that haunted him: Nine shots, in a Game 7, from a guy who’d been a 15-shot centerpiece before he landed with the Sixers as their trade-deadline jewel -- a jewel that seldom was allowed to shine, especially late in close games. That was Jimmy Butler time. Joel Embiid time. Not Tobias Harris time. And he didn’t like it. “I was definitely underutilized," Harris told me last week. He usually speaks so softly you have to look at his lips but there was a brittle edge to his voice, and he looked me dead in the eyes. He wore a blood-red suit. He sounded like an assassin. ADVERTISEMENT “For sure, last year, we had a combination of different guys. We had and the newness of everybody," he said during a side session at last week’s free-agent press conference. "But yes. I was definitely underutilized.” His marginalization was the crux of his conversation with coach Brett Brown on June 30, when they met to discuss what Harris’ role would be if he returned as a free agent. In fact, the way Brown used him was the subject of several discussions between Harris and Brown during the season. This is a bit surprising since was considered a good soldier, and good soldiers don’t make waves. He did; barely ripples, but waves nonetheless. NEWSLETTERS: INQUIRER SPORTS DAILY The biggest stories for Philly’s biggest sports fans Sign Up Harris rode a tidal wave of leverage into his meeting last month. Brown was ready. “It’s something, when I came into my meeting here, that Coach Brown talked about,” Harris said. “How it would be in those situations.” ADVERTISEMENT If he returned, Brown said, “those situations” would often feature Harris. After eight NBA seasons spent with six different clubs, Harris would finally be a primary option on a contending team. Which he should have been more often for the Sixers this spring. Brown did not take part in the press conference last week and he has declared himself on Full Media Blackout until the team reconvenes in September. But a league source familiar with the conversation between Brown and Harris confirmed that, in their meeting last month, Brown admitted to Harris that Harris could have been the team’s first option more often; that it didn’t have to be cold-blooded Jimmy Butler all the time. The discussion was amicable, as they were during the season. Then or now Harris made no demands and there was never an ultimatum. But, on June 30, Brown clearly knew what Harris wanted to hear. A few hours later Harris agreed to a 5-year, $180-million contract. Two hours after that the Sixers agreed to a sign-and-trade that sent Butler to Miami.

Returning veteran forward Tobias Harris is entering a different Philadelphia 76ers team next season, with the departure of four-time All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler changing things up to start.

Harris re-signed with the Philadelphia franchise to the tune of five years and $180 million. Despite never making an All-Star Game, the Sixers believed Harris was too valuable to let go.

That doesn’t mean everything is sunny in Philadelphia, however, with the eight-year forward venting his feelings on last season and the playoffs, when the Sixers were eliminated in seven games by the eventual champion Toronto Raptors in the second round.

“I was definitely underutilized,” Harris told Marcus Hayes of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The 27-year-old went on to say that last season saw Philly still getting acquainted with one another, with Butler’s arrival early in the season from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Harris arriving at the deadline resulting in the “newness” of the team and a tough juggling act for head coach Brett Brown.

The Sixers traded for the Long Island native in February of this year in a big-time deal that saw the expiring contract of Harris along with Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott arrive in Philly for Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, and multiple draft picks. Heading into the offseason, it was unclear whether the Sixers would keep Harris, Butler, both, or neither.

However, Harris will be getting acquainted with new teammates Al Horford, who the Sixers signed in free agency, and Josh Richardson, the 25-year-old wing acquired in the Butler sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat.

Despite feeling underutilized by Philly, Harris will again have to play alongside tenacious competitors on a team with title aspirations, though Brown is already promising a bigger opportunity.