In Bob Ryan's 1975 book "The Pro Game," he wrote of forwards: "The most dramatic change in the way the modern game of professional basketball is played, as opposed to the way it was played in the fifties, has taken place at the forward position. That the change is entirely for the better is without question. Basketball has been transformed from a game in which size was beginning to mean everything into one in which relative size is less important than style of play."
If that book were being written today and those same words appropriated, the images aligned with the text for the new prototype of the forward position would not be Dan Issel and Julius Erving. They would probably be Draymond Green and Tobias Harris.
Harris is the one with something left to prove after re-signing with the Orlando Magic on a four-year, $64 million contract. His 17 points per game on only 14 shots along with six rebounds is the new beginning once $64 million is attached to it. Expectations rise. All-Star appearances are the standard. Playoffs a must.
For Harris, this is all he's ever wanted: the opportunity to exceed expectations. Not yours, his. And those are much higher.
Scoop Jackson: Off the top, what do you feel the new contract represents?
Harris: It represents hard work and patience. And I say that because I came into the league at 18 years old just trying to, you know, make a name for myself and really just trying to stay here. And I got an opportunity to play in Orlando and I just took advantage of that. And I say patience because before last season, we couldn't get a deal done, but I had patience with myself and enough confidence in my game to know that something bigger was going to happen and it actually did happen. Those two things definitely stand out because everything eventually worked out.
Scoop: Do you think there's going to be a different type of pressure that even you are going to place on yourself as opposed to the pressure you put on yourself before to perform to put yourself in position to get the contract you wanted? You know what I'm saying: the difference in proving you are worth it versus proving you earned it.
Harris: I definitely understand what you are saying, and I think just as a player, it's not that I put pressure on myself; I just have very high expectations of what I can do. I'm always going to have those expectations no matter how much I get paid. It just comes down to me as a player helping my team win and putting the team in a better situation to make something happen. So I don't really look at it as a lot of pressure, I look at it as expectations I have within myself to really turn this thing around for our team, and going forward, not have a losing season and play in the playoffs at the end of every year.
Scoop: Will you worry at all about the fans' exceptions now? You already know because you've seen it happen around the league -- they'll start attaching the money to your game real quick.
Harris: Yeah, yeah. I don't worry about that though. True fans that support our team support the player and always have your back. You can't please everybody; everybody knows that, but at the same time all you can do is control what you can control and that's going out there as a player every single night and giving my all. And people are going to know that I left everything I have out there on that floor. So that's the only thing I will really focus on every single night. Just doing my full part in helping my team win and that's something as a collective group we all have to have that same mentality and we all gotta pull for each other to get that done.
Scoop: Speaking of that, contract aside, just looking at your squad, you all are about ready.
Harris: Yeah, we are.
Scoop: Now that everyone is secure and roles are defined. You, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Nicola Vucevic ... man. I know how I look at it and what I see, but how do you all look at yourselves, and what do you see?
Harris: We see that same thing you do. We're very confident as a team, as a group. We have great pieces. It's not really about "we need this guy or we need that guy," you know, right now with us it's all about growth. And that comes with guys going into their fourth year, into their third year, into their second year and getting some experience. It only helps us. We have expectations for this team, for each other really. Individually we are all looking at the next guy like, "You gotta be back here ready. You gotta be back here shooting better, more physical, in better shape." Pushing each other. When we are away we are always working, like "Yeah, I gotta be ready because this is the year we can really make a splash and do something big."
Scoop: When did that click with you and your team?
Harris: Well there were flashes in games; I thought last year we had a little run during the year, a little before the midpoint of the year that we just lost a lot of games that I felt we shouldn't have lost. I just didn't think then we had the mental strength to push forward that time. But a lot of that comes with inexperience, and going forward for our team we have guys that now have had that experience and know how to just push it into overdrive and get those games behind us, you know, win those games. As far as this year, it's about having that consistent effort and that consistent mindset of saying we can do it and not getting discouraged.
Scoop: Do you believe in the philosophy that in order to achieve or find true success, you have to learn how to win?
Scoop: Like you have to go through a season or two of losing games and learning from losing those games how not to lose those games again?
Harris: I do believe that. I believe you have to learn how to win. And that just doesn't come from going out on the basketball court and playing. That comes from hours and hours of preparation, preparation before that game, preparation for the other team you are playing, mental preparation. I think that a lot of guys on our team realized that last year. And that's something that is only going to help us.
Harris: Yeah, you know my father represented George Gervin back in the day, so I've been working out with him a lot over the years. Ever since I was like 10 years old. And even when I was 10, I was like, "Yo, that's Iceman." Now I really didn't know about him like that, but I'd heard the stories, you know. My father would tell us stories. So I was always around him like, "Wow." But even now, like, he knows so much about the game and the best thing about it is that he has a real passion for the game, a passion for teaching people about the game. I've learned so much from him, just sitting down and talking to him. About the mentality of being a scorer, the mentality of just trying to be one of the best in the league. A lot of what we talk about and what he teaches me is simple things, like footwork. It seems really simple, but when we are there, when I'm with him, I pick up on something else that I can do. He just always teaches me ways to be a better scorer and player when I'm on the floor.
Scoop: Is there any player in the league that even now, after being in it four years, you look at them and think you want to be where they are in their career?
Harris: Kobe Bryant. That's the guy that comes to my mind. And it's more of the fact that, like, what year is he going into, his 19th or 20th or something like that [20th]? And when I hear around the league, like stories on how hard he works and what he puts into this, it's like really motivating. And I know I'm in the gym a lot, and know that you have to rest your body and all that because you are going to get banged up and tired. But this man, Kobe, he's been doing that -- now he just got injured like two years ago -- but he was doing that for 15, 16, 17 years straight! That's more hours than anybody. Just his work ethic, man. His work ethic speaks volumes and I really respect that.
Scoop: Every player in the league, it seems to me, that you all know. Kobe's name always seems to come up in conversations when talking to players about other players they respect the most.
Harris: How many people 19 years in and still go out there and get 25 [points] a game? I respect that from a guy like him.
Scoop: I read the Grantland piece Zach Lowe did on you. You were pretty up front and honest with your answers about yourself and your game. That was kind of refreshing to read. Most players wouldn't be that real about the flaws in their game.
"I believe you have to learn how to win. And that just doesn't come from going out on the basketball court and playing. That comes from hours and hours of preparation; preparation before that game, preparation for the other team you are playing, mental preparation. I think that a lot of guys on our team realized that last year. And that's something that is only going to help us." Tobias Harris
Harris: I'ma always keep it 100. Just with my game. Because I know I'm not a perfect player and I know the type of player I can become. I know that just turning 23 [years old], there's still so much more growth for me. And that's the best thing about myself is that each and every summer I go back to the drawing board and say, "OK, these are the things I need to work on and still gotta get better at." And when I look at that list, I say "Man, this is some good stuff on here that can really help increase my game." You know at the end of the day you have to look at yourself in the mirror, you have to get yourself better and those are the things that I try to always do.
Scoop: It seems to me that you are now trying to put yourself in a stretch-four position by working on extending range in your workouts this summer. Like that's the added element you are working on. Would that be wrong?
Harris: You know what, I really don't work on stretch-four positions or putting myself in those positions. I work on being a three. And the reason I say that is because when I am at the three and I move to a stretch-four, it's the exact same thing you are usually playing against more times than not a bigger guy, a stronger guy. So if I have my three skills down the way that I want when I go to the four, it's even better. I look at the positions as being very similar, but when I'm at the four I use a lot of my quickness and ballhandling and my speed going to the basket, my jumper as my advantage. When I'm at the three I use more posts, more pick and rolls around the corners for some spot-up 3s. So when I work on my game those are all of the things I'm working on, all those types of intangibles. So when I work out I am working on mostly [the] 3 [position], but at the same time, it's a full package so if I do go to the four ...
Scoop: It's a comfortable transition.
Harris: Yeah, it's super-comfortable for me.
Scoop: But here's the dilemma, let's throw in some stats: You shot 44 percent last year on corner 3s. At the same time you shot 51 percent on post-ups. So do you look at those numbers and say to yourself, "I need to stick with those as my go-tos and try to become more efficient that way" or do you look at those numbers and say "Those are going to always be there; let me go work on other parts of my game and try to become more efficient in other aspects?"
Harris: I look at those numbers and say "Let me bring those up," especially on the corner 3s. "Let me bring those up but let me also extend out to the break and in the middle." Those are the things I'm working on this summer, more high-quadrant 3s. But at the same time work on the corner 3s to the point where I'm making a lot of consecutive shots in a row. And for the post-ups, that just comes with more touches and me getting better position down there in the post. I'll work on that also. I never deviate from something. If I'm doing good at it, I'll stay at it because it's been proven that it works and I'll keep going to it.
Scoop: Do you think that you've been defensively stereotyped?
Harris: Not really. I think when I first came in [the NBA] I did, but I think I put a little bit of it to rest last year, especially at the beginning of the season when people were saying, "Oh, he's defending now." Then I started to get banged up a little [as the season went on], but that's only more motivation going into this year, especially with a defensive-minded coach like coach [Scott] Skiles. I'm just going to try to continue to show that I can defend at a high level.
Scoop: Who do you pay attention to more: the people who give you praise or the haters?
Harris: I would say even. Both. But I pay more attention to like my father, my coaches and people like that. My family, you know. My sisters play ball. My older brother, he's in my ear. My younger brother, he's in my ear. Critiquing me on my game. That's who I mostly pay attention to.
Scoop: What did Kat Williams say, "If you got 15 haters, you don't have enough. You need 16?"
Harris: Exactly! Man, you know, one thing, every night people are going to say anything. Positive and negative. The best players in the league: LeBron, Carmelo, KD, Westbrook, people will say that they suck. People are always going to say something, so you really can't buy into all of that. And that's why I try to sometimes deviate from social media because -- not that it gets to me, but sometimes it's all just wasted energy.