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Clippers' Tobias Harris learns his worth with two big phone calls over the summer

Clippers' Tobias Harris learns his worth with two big phone calls over the summer
Clippers' Tobias Harris celebrates his dunk against Indiana on April 1. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The two phone calls provided surreal moments for Tobias Harris, leaving him in a state of euphoria.

In early April, Harris was asked to participate in the minicamp for Team USA, which could lead to a spot on the 2020 Olympic basketball team.

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He received a call this month from the Clippers asking if he was interested in signing an $80-million extension.

Two calls in four months that revealed to Harris his worth in the basketball world.

He already had been in the USA Basketball system as a member of the 2014 USA Select team that trained with the 2014 national team.

But this was different. This was about possibly representing his country in the Olympics in Tokyo after Harris was among a group of 35 players selected to train Wednesday through Friday in Las Vegas.

“I got the invite last season during the middle of the year and that was like a no-brainer,” Harris said Tuesday in a phone call. “Just to be selected with that group of guys, that was huge. When I got the call, you can never prepare for that. But it was a huge accomplishment and an amazing feeling to get that call.”

Word began to leak Sunday that the Clippers had designs on securing Harris long-term.

He arrived in Los Angeles in late January as the centerpiece of the Blake Griffin trade with the Detroit Pistons.

In 32 games with the Clippers, the 6-foot-9 forward showcased a diverse set of skills, averaging 19.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists and shooting 41.4% from three-point range. For the season, Harris averaged career bests in points (18.6) assists (2.4) and three-point shooting (41.1%).

It made sense for the Clippers to reach out to Harris about an extension.

“I think that as a player you never know, but just to get that offer was an amazing feeling,” Harris said. “For me, I’m a kid who puts everything into the game and to have an organization come to me with that offer and to be able to present that was a really big accomplishment. It showed that the team valued me as a player.”

The discussions were amicable, but Harris and his representatives declined the offer.

He’ll play out this season — earning $14.8 million — and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He’ll have the ability to earn as much as $188 million over five years with the Clippers or $145.5 million over four years with another team.

“One thing that I kind of stick to and what our team sticks to is earning what my value is as a player,” Harris said. “That’s the biggest thing is going out and earning it. Whether it’s that number at the end of next summer or whatever else the number is.

“I play the game for the love of basketball, for the love to compete and to get better, and that’s where that comes from. But I’m a player who has been loyal to whatever team I’ve been a part of.

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“Obviously there is a bigger market next summer. But at the same time, when I’m in season and I have that uniform on, that’s the only team that I’m focused on and that’s the only teammates that I’m going to war with.”

This summer was about “fine-tuning” every aspect of his game with Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell in New York.

Cassell had Harris view film on how certain players performed in certain situations.

They watched how Paul Pierce and Allan Houston worked in the mid-post. Harris, on his own after Cassell departed, studied how Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan used their footwork to their advantage, moved in the post and consistently hit fade-away jumpers.

“Sam knows his stuff. He has played the game at the highest level, won championships,” Harris said. “So just getting that knowledge from him and just always trying to learn more, it’s been great to be able to have him around. He’s a huge part of my improvement, especially coming into this summer.

“We did the running, jumping, shooting, lifting. We did all the physical stuff. That’s already set in stone. You got to do those things to stay in shape. But it’s the extra things that you do, like watching film and breaking the game down a lot more. Sam was great at all of that.”

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