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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 12/21

Basketball Insiders looks at some of the articles from last week in case you missed any the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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The Russell Westbrook Revival

By Moke Hamilton

Russell Westbrook curled around Serge Ibaka, simultaneously using him to screen off his primary defender and neatly receiving the handoff. Like a running back, Westbrook hid behind Ibaka for a split second before going back from where he came, but this time, with the basketball in tow.

Westbrook beat Iman Shumpert to the corner, hesitated when Quincy Acy showed and then, like freight train, exploded with a quick first step and accelerated down the baseline. Shumpert was left in his wake.

As he approached the basket, Westbrook showed no signs of attrition. There was no trepidation, no hesitation and no doubt.

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Are The Kings Targeting George Karl?

By Steve Kyler

While this one seemed a little out of left field, the Sacramento Kings decided to part ways with head coach Mike Malone. The truth behind the curtain is, this one wasn’t nearly as shocking as it may seem despite the Kings’ hot start and somewhat improved situation.

Malone is a defensive-minded coach that was hired by new Kings owner Vivek Ranadive before he had hired his front office. There was a sense at least initially that Malone would be dictating a lot of the structure of the Kings, however over time that’s changed somewhat dramatically.

Ranadive has become much more hands on. He is much more involved in the day-to-day than your typical NBA owner in a very Mark Cuban kind of way. Malone’s defense-first mindset has been problematic for Ranadive for some time.

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Lillard, Blazers are Winning and Feeling Confident

By Joel Brigham

The Portland Trail Blazers have been good for a few years now, but something about this current squad looks really, really good, and All-Star point guard Damian Lillard thinks he knows the reason why.

“It’s our confidence,” Lillard told Basketball Insiders. “Last year we surprised people and might’ve even surprised ourselves a little bit, but we won a playoff series without home court advantage.”

Confidence through success, however, is only a part of Portland’s maturation this year. Humility is another part of it.

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Greg Monroe’s Limited Market

By Yannis Koutroupis

Like most of the players who signed this offseason, Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe became eligible to be traded today. As a 24-year-old versatile big man who has been good for 15 points and nine rebounds a game over the last four seasons despite the turmoil surrounding him, you would think teams would be beating down the Pistons’ door to acquire him. However, his situation is quite unique and it limits his market significantly.

Monroe was a restricted free agent last offseason, which gave the Pistons the right to match any offer he received. The Pistons made him a long-term offer, the value of which is unknown, but it was clearly shy of the max and Monroe decided to decline. There were other teams, specifically the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns, who voiced an interest in trading for him but the Pistons held all the cards. They wanted great value in return in any sign-and-trade deal and had the rest of the league believing that they would match any offer for him to the point where Monroe was eventually forced to accept a $5.5 million qualifying offer.

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Playoff Sleepers in the Eastern Conference

By Cody Taylor

The quarter mark of the NBA season is here and we are beginning to see which teams are alive in the playoff chase. In the Eastern Conference, there hasn’t been any one squad that has identified itself as the top team, as the top five are all within four games of each other. The Hawks and Cavaliers have been two of the hottest teams in the league as of late, as the Hawks have won nine out of their last 10 and the Cavaliers have won eight of their last. It appears to be a safe bet that some combination of the Raptors, Wizards, Hawks, Bulls and Cavaliers will make up the top five seeds in the East, leaving the last three spots up for grabs.

Currently the Bucks, HEAT and Nets occupy the six-through-eight spots in the East with the Magic, Celtics and Pacers right behind them. The Bucks have been one of the biggest surprises in the league thus far as they’ve won 12 games after winning just 15 all of last season. Given their youth and inexperience, it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to keep up their strong start so they could fall out of the picture at some point. The HEAT, meanwhile, are battling injuries with Josh McRoberts possibly missing the rest of the season and Chris Bosh out indefinitely with a calf injury. They’ve won just three out of their last 10 games and have one of the worst defenses in the league and are quickly falling in the standings.

With that being said, here are three teams that could sneak into the playoffs:

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Kobe Bryant Remains A Double-Edged Sword

By Jabari Davis

Like most things involving the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer, Kobe Bryant’s recent and admittedly over-blown decision to publicly chastise his teammates was predictably met with both an understanding nod by some and the usual disdain and criticism of others. This is nothing new for Bryant, as the 19-year veteran has probably been the most polarizing sports figure over the last decade and a half.

If anything, what is actually surprising is the contingency that somehow expects Bryant to change his ways this far into a Hall of Fame career. Not that additional adjustments couldn’t have at least opened the door for a smoother transition into the next era of Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball but, again, an expectation of that makes us ask: just which Bryant have you been watching all of these years?

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George Karl Interested in Kings Job

By Alex Kennedy

When the Sacramento Kings shockingly fired head coach Mike Malone, one of the first potential replacements that started being mentioned on the rumor mill was George Karl.

Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver, and Sacramento’s decision-makers (including owner Vivek Ranadive) want the team to play an up-tempo style of basketball and get out in transition, which is Karl’s strength.

The 63-year-old head coach remains available, doing a variety of broadcasting jobs such as providing analysis on ESPN and hosting a radio show on Sirius XM NBA Radio while he waits to get back into coaching. Shortly after he was fired by Denver back in June of 2012 (right after he won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award), he told Basketball Insiders that he wanted to resume his coaching career at some point, preferably with a team in the Western Conference.

Yesterday, on his radio show, Karl addressed the rumors about him possibly coaching the Kings and admitted that he’s interested in talking with Sacramento’s management at some point.

 

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Unintended Consequences of Malone Firing Could Help Kings

By Nate Duncan

Under the stewardship of owner Vivek Ranadive, the Sacramento Kings have quickly established a reputation as perhaps the NBA’s most unconventional franchise. Since he took control in May 2013, Ranadive hired his coach before his general manager, signed Carl Landry to a four-year deal for the full mid-level exception, gave DeMarcus Cousins a max extension, traded for analytics pariah Rudy Gay and let Isaiah Thomas walk for the reputedly inferior Darren Collison. All of these moves drew varying degrees of criticism, although many (particularly Cousins, Gay and Collison) have achieved better results than many commentators anticipated.

Even those unconventional moves did not augur the latest head-scratcher, the firing of coach Michael Malone after only a season and a quarter. The consensus is that Malone did not deserve to be axed—he had the Kings playing .600 ball before Cousins missed the last nine games with viral meningitis. The doormat Kings had improved defensively on an individual and team level, especially with Cousins in the game. And Cousins, Gay, Collison and Ben McLemore had all shown significant improvement, on track for the best seasons of their careers so far.

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Down Goes Bucks’ Star Rookie Jabari Parker

By Lang Greene

There are plenty of surprises around the league that have been uncovered during the first quarter of the 2014-15 campaign. The Charlotte Hornets’ implosion, Detroit’s plummet deeper into the Eastern Conference basement and of course all of the drama unfolding in the land of the New York Knicks – all showing that preseason scripts are rarely followed to the letter.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also been a surprise. A pleasant one to their fan base, in fact. In 2013, the franchise won a grand total of 15 games. This season, fortunes have reversed, as the club already has 13 victories and would be the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed if the playoffs started today.

However, the positive momentum starting to build in Milwaukee took a huge blow on Tuesday night when the franchise announced rookie forward Jabari Parker suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and would miss the rest of the season.

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Let’s Trade Nets Guard Deron Williams

By Jesse Blancarte

Last week, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk reported that the Brooklyn Nets are prepared to trade each of their star players, including Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. It’s still not clear whether each of these players will be dealt this season, but it seems likely that at least two out of the three will be traded.

The most talented and accomplished player of the bunch is point guard Deron Williams. He was selected to the All-NBA Second Team twice (2008, 2010), is a three-time All-Star (2010–2012), and has career averages of 17.4 points, 8.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. For several seasons, Williams was considered to be one of the two best point guards in the NBA, along with Chris Paul. However, since being traded to the then-New Jersey Nets in early 2011, Williams has struggled through injuries, inconsistent play and has fallen short of the lofty expectations that came with his arrival in New Jersey.

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Breaking Down the Rajon Rondo Trade

By Jessica Camerato

After less than two months, the first major move of the 2014-15 NBA season is here.

On Thursday evening the Boston Celtics traded Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell to the Dallas Mavericks for Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, a conditional first round draft pick, a 2016 second round draft pick and a $12.9 million trade exception.

The move demonstrates the different directions of each team. The Mavericks are contending for a title now while the Celtics are rebuilding for the future. Here is a breakdown for both sides.

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Will Phil Jackson be Able to Practice Patience?

By Tommy Beer

Let’s start with the recognition of the fact that the hand Phil Jackson was dealt was not ideal.

When Jackson was named President of the New York Knicks, back on March 18, the Knicks were at the tail end of a bitterly disappointing season. The undermanned roster Jackson inherited finished the 2013-14 season with a 37-45 record, missing the playoffs in the watered-down Eastern Conference.

Heading into the summer of 2014, it was understood that, in some respects, Jackson’s hands were tied due to the Knicks being well over the salary cap. Nonetheless, there we still important decisions to be made.

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Who Are the NBA’s Best Centers?

By Mary Stevens

Back in the day, centers were often looked at as the cornerstones of many winning NBA franchises. While they might not be the main focus when building a contender today, they are still an important piece. Basketball Insiders talked to a number of NBA centers to get their thoughts on their peers. Using that information as well as stats, we put together this list of the best centers around the league:

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Let’s Trade Pistons Forward Greg Monroe

By John Zitzler

On Monday, Jesse Blancarte offered up a number of possible trade scenarios involving Nets point guard Deron Williams. Along with Williams, the Nets have made Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson available and seem ready to unload some their top talent after starting 10-14.

Today we take a look at another big name who may be on move, Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe. After spending this past summer as a restricted free agent, Monroe and the Pistons were unable come to terms on a long-term deal. Not landing the lucrative contract he had in mind, Monroe settled for the $5.5 million dollar qualifying offer from the Pistons. His acceptance of the qualifying earned Monroe a no-trade clause, giving him the power to veto any deal that isn’t to his liking. No matter where Monroe finishes the season he will once again be in line for a big payday, a factor that will weigh heavily for any team considering acquiring the young big man since he will lose his bird rights with any trade, meaning they re-sign him without going under the cap.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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NBA Daily: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?

As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.

Jordan Hicks

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Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.

For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?

The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.

Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.

What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.

Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.

While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.

Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.

One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.

As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.

The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.

Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”

Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.

As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.

Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.

Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.

But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.

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How The NBA Became The Most Betting-Friendly League In American Sports

Basketball Insiders

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The NBA has become synonymous with betting conversations during the Adam Silver era, with the league frequently being at the forefront of those discussions. Compared to the other professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has not only appeared to be the most progressive with regard to the topic, but it has also looked like the league that is the most likely to get further involved in the industry.

Of course, the league has placed a focus on sports betting, given that they have a vested interest in the continued legalization of that. They have mentioned that they would like a cut of NBA wagers placed, with the industry’s growth in the United States being something that the league could see improving the bottom-line.

Whether or not the NBA gets a piece of the action from a financial perspective, it is still surprising to see a major professional sports league in the United States willing to entertain the conversation at all. By comparison, the NFL has been largely afraid to discuss sports betting, while Major League Baseball has banned its all-time leading hitter for life for gambling-related offenses.

And it isn’t as if the NBA is only interested in gambling in the context of betting on NBA games. The league has relationships in the daily fantasy sports industry as well, with visibility for brands in that space seen in NBA arenas as well. And the NBA-subsidized WNBA is also a part of this betting-friendly basketball landscape, most notably in the form of a team named after a casino.

The Connecticut Sun is that team, as they play in the home of a popular casino in their area. Both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury play in a venue named after a casino as well. And it is the casino industry that the NBA may conceivably expand into as their relationships in the betting industry appear to be growing in both quality and quantity. With the growth of online casinos, it isn’t impossible to envision the NBA encouraging its fans to compare the best casino bonuses to increase its market share in this growing industry.

Of course, with the betting renaissance that is going on in the United States at this time, the league is making sure that everyone knows that its integrity is not to be questioned. The league has made clear that they are going to ramp up the enforcement of its betting policies, to make sure that players aren’t compromising the game’s integrity. That move by the league is a smart one, as it makes sure that fans know that there is no reason to question the sport even if the league embraces betting.

The NBA is seeing progress across the sport, from its on-court evolution that prioritizes ball movement and long-range shooting, to its off-court stances on betting. Unlike the other major American sports, that willingness to evolve is part of what has caused the popularity of the NBA to skyrocket in recent years.

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NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe

Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.

Drew Maresca

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Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.

No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.

And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.

“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”

While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.

Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).

He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).

It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”

Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.

And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.

A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.

“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”

Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.

And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.

The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.

“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”

Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.

“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”

Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”

So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.

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