Two summers ago, the Brooklyn Nets made the incredibly quiet decision to sign Joe Harris to a multi-year deal.
At the time, it represented the Nets’ new experimental regime under general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson. Both of whom were expected to finish picking up the pieces from a franchise-altering trade made three seasons beforehand, long prior to either of their involvement with the Nets.
Now, it seems Harris may be one of their shrewdest investments yet.
Last week, the 3 p.m. trade deadline came and went without major fireworks in Brooklyn. The Nets, without their first-round draft pick for the final time in 2018, were expected to be sellers again. With rejuvenated, reinvented players like Harris and DeMarre Carroll, the Nets could potentially recoup some of their maligned, missing assets and some clear cap space ahead of free agency.
But outside of two small trades involving Tyler Zeller, Rashad Vaughn and Dante Cunningham, the Nets stood pat and, surprisingly, much of their 19-win roster remained the same.
“You try and make your team better, if you can, and when you can, but staying true to the goals that have been outlined over the course of the last 18 months,” Marks told Alex Labidou. “Just doing it strategically, being patient and waiting, and if you see something that you can act upon that not only helps us not only right now but going into the future, we’ll do it.”
The Nets’ front office has long desired to build a place of culture and family from the ashes of Billy King’s notorious trades. That alone, more or less, can explain why valuable players like Carroll or even Spencer Dinwiddie stayed at home. But for Harris, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, it denotes how important the well-rounded scorer has become for the Nets and their undefined future.
After averaging 12 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists as a senior at the University of Virginia, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Harris with the No. 33 overall pick back in 2014. But for a veteran-laden, LeBron James-led squad that reached the NBA Finals, Harris played only 9.7 minutes per game as a rookie. The following season was far more unfortunate and Harris played in just five games, underwent foot surgery, got traded to the Orlando Magic and then was immediately waived.
Eventually scooped up by the Nets, Harris had a successful 2016-17 season in Brooklyn. The sharp-shooting guard played in 52 games with 11 starts, earned a career-high in minutes by more than double (21.9) and nearly every other measurable statistic took a boost as well. A concussion in early March and the subsequent lingering shoulder issues would eventually shut Harris down for the remainder of that lost season, but his first impression as a smart, attack-ready basketball player was well-made
Needless to say, this second campaign has been even better. Career-highs for Harris have come again in points (10.5), rebounds (3.4), assists (1.5) and, most importantly, his three-point rate has jumped from 38.5 to 40.1 percent. Additionally, Harris has scored in double-digits in 32 games this season — a feat he reached just a combined 22 times over his first three years — and stands as the team’s most reliable shooter. Allen Crabbe (2.5) and Dinwiddie (2.0) make marginally more three-pointers per game than Harris (1.9), but both fall short comparatively by percentage, only knocking them down at 36 and 34.2 percent rates, respectively.
The Nets grabbed Harris off the scrap heap as an interesting prospect to develop, but in the months since, he’s become essential to this roster. And now, they’re at the risk of losing him for nothing because he’s been that undeniably important for Brooklyn. So important that the Nets will consider him a ‘potential core player’ from here on out, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
Even better, Harris has, on multiple occasions, mentioned that he loves Brooklyn — so the pair is clearly sweet on each other.
“I’ve been enjoying being here and being a part of a good organization,” Harris told Sam Blum of The Daily Progress last week. “I love playing for Kenny. I love the teammates that we have and everybody else that’s in the organization. We have a lot of great people, top to bottom.”
But whether or not the Nets can retain Harris seems almost irrelevant at this point — it’s a win-win for both sides already. Harris, who had once been on the verge of losing his NBA career, has now resurrected it for the long haul. For somebody that was waived fifteen months into their professional journey and looked poised for an attempt at the G-League, Harris has certainly done well for himself. Seven days ago, Harris scored 18 points on 4-for-8 from three-point range and added six rebounds and six assists in a narrow defeat to the Detroit Pistons.
What a difference a few years can make, after all.
And for the Nets, Harris represents the creation of something out of nothing, another success story to add to their list of rebuilding achievements. From Harris down to Dinwiddie’s valuable contract worth just $1.6 million in 2018-19, the Nets have made a living off of second chances over the last two seasons. While the Nets have collected some solid pieces lately — D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and rookie Jarrett Allen among them — they’re still not all that close to becoming a significant force in the NBA again. However, the team is impressively heading in the right direction considering their circumstances.
Steady as they come, Harris has not only heavily contributed to a handful of Nets wins this season, but he’s also been the sole factor in a number of others not deteriorating into an unmistakeable blowout. He’ll never be a superstar, but Harris could play an important role for a contender if he were to not re-sign in Brooklyn this summer.
Following the relatively slow deadline, questions were asked of Marks’ long-term gameplan. How could the Nets not restock some of their assets? How could they not cash in on an unrestricted free agent that doesn’t fit their 2020 and beyond timeline? Well, sometimes the best moves are the ones that aren’t made. And for a team that’s trying to build a culture and modern NBA system, keeping Harris around just makes sense, even if he ends up leaving in a few months.
NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed
James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.
Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.
2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.
“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”
Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.
“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”
While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.
“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.
Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.
“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”
Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.
“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.
Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.
“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.
On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.
Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.
“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.
Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.
Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience
It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.
Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.
He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.
To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.
“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.
“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”
Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.
“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”
So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.
“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”
It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.
Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.
“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.
“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”
After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.
Whether the next chapter in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”
And it’s about time people are taking notice.
NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop
Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.
When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.
He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.
Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.
The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.
“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.
“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”
And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.
“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”
This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.
Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.
It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.
“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”
Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”
Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.
After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.