The Detroit Pistons were fighting for their playoff lives when the team traded for up-and-coming wing Tobias Harris on February 22nd, 2016, as the franchise was sitting at 27-27 while shooting to make the postseason for the first time since 2009. The fifth-year forward out of Tennesee had faced limited play time in Milwaukee and never had a real chance to break out with the Magic, a team that struggles to take advantage of their young talent, but was finally given an opportunity with Detroit.
There was quite a bit of speculation around the NBA world as to whether the Pistons won the trade that brought them Harris, along with his 4-year, $64-million contract, for Brandon Jennings, who served as the heart and soul of the struggling Pistons post-Josh Smith release, and Ersan Ilyasova, who fit in with coach Stan Van Gundy’s floor spacing offense. In the end, Jennings and Ilyasova were both out of Orlando within months while Harris proved to be a key cog in leading the Pistons to their first playoff appearance since the end of the Goin’ to Work era.
The following season, hopes of building on the franchise’s first playoff series since 2009 were put on hold with Reggie Jackson, who was playing close to All-Star level the year prior, was held out the first portion of the season due to left knee tendinitis. With the team’s primary playmaker out, Harris, among others, failed to build on what became a career year for multiple players on the 2016 Pistons roster, although he seemed to be the only glimmer of hope for Detroit when he infused some energy into the team off the bench.
In the summer, Detroit brought in Avery Bradley, who didn’t need the ball in his hands nearly as much as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to be productive – although the turnover-prone Bradley still ended up with the ball in his hands much more than he should’ve – and as a result, more shots were opened up for the offensively-gifted Harris. This was the beginning of what would become – and still is – a magical season for Harris, a career-year hampered only by Reggie Jackson’s ankle sprain suffered in a game Harris scored 21 points in the first quarter.
After coming over from Orlando, Harris went from a position-less, inefficient scorer who couldn’t defend or knock down a three-pointer to one of the league’s most versatile and efficient offensive players, even being announced to the Three-Point Contest shortly after he was shipped to Los Angeles. In his three-season tenure with the Pistons, Harris improved his scoring average each year, with averages of 14.7 points per game over his 76 games between Orlando and Detroit, 16.1 points per game while playing in every contest, with nearly half of them with him coming off the bench, and finally rounded out his streak of improvement with 18.1 over his final 48 games donning Pistons’ red, white and blue.
Tobias Harris embodied everything a Detroiter loves in their athletes, hard-working, humble, and always giving your absolute best effort into whatever you do. These qualities, along with his constant improvement, led to Harris becoming a fan-favorite for Detroit sports fans while only playing two seasons worth of games in Motown.
When Harris was traded off, along with the struggling Bradley and fellow fan-favorite Boban Marjanovic, he let the Detroit know his appreciation for the team, fans, and city:
Detroit, From the day I got here it’s been nothing but love. I want to thank every last one of you for the amazing support, the hospitality, the snow, The games at the Palace and Little Caesar’s, the cheers, the boos, hearing y’all scream DETROIT, followed by BASKETBALL!! It’s been amazing. Gods path leads you in many directions, I’m excited to start the next chapter. Want to give a true thank you to my teammates it’s been a blessing to work with you everyday. Want to thank Tom Gores and Coach Van Gundy, true professionals and first class men. Blessings to you Detroit. Thank you🙏🏽🙏🏽
When asked about his former team after his new team, the Los Angeles Clippers, defeated the Pistons in his first game back in Detroit on Friday night, Harris shared his thoughts:
It’s like seeing your ex-girlfriend for the first time, with her new man. You’ve got a new girl. Of course we want to win. That was the biggest thing. At lot was put into, obviously, the trade, this game, so we wanted to come out and handle business.
Harris also again showed love to the Pistons and the city of Detroit, emphasizing that he always embraces new opportunities:
It’s part of the game. I wish the Pistons nothing but the best. Not just the Pistons, but the whole City of Detroit. Any type of situation I’m in, I embrace it fully, whether that be on the basketball court, off the court. I invest a lot into that. When I got traded, it was hard for me to take at first, but at the same time I understand what was going on.
Harris is still a young player, at only 25, and has plenty of basketball to play before he calls it a career – and in the end, Detroit will only be remembered as a small chapter in what should end up as a very successful tenure in the NBA. However, Pistons fans will remember what he brought to the franchise and what he did to become one of the city’s most lovable athletes.
So thank you, Tobias Harris, for instilling your hard-working, blue-collared approach to the game into this team and showing the city what Detroit Basketball is all about.
Featured Image – (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)