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NBA PM: Joe Harris Understands His Role

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As the Brooklyn Nets make their way through a rebuilding effort, the front office will have plenty of opportunities to evaluate their roster and decide which players they’d like to keep around moving forward.

The roster has a good mix of veterans and younger players. The veterans are headlined by Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin, Trevor Booker, Luis Scola and Randy Foye while there is plenty of young talent on the roster in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Sean Kilpatrick, Chris McCullough, Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert. Of course, the team also has a former top pick in Anthony Bennett as well.

Since hiring Sean Marks as general manager back in February, the team has been trying to get younger and continue to collect assets. Previous management made a number of moves designed to help the team compete for an extended playoff run that ultimately didn’t pan out. Those moves sacrificed the team’s long-term flexibility. For example, the team traded away three future first-round draft picks in the trade that brought in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

As the Nets try to dig themselves out of the hole they were put in by the previous regime, the team appears to have laid out the building blocks for the future. The rebuild will allow them to get an extended look at players like Kilpatrick, Hollis-Jefferson and Bojan Bogdanovic, all of whom have shown promise as they continue to develop.

Perhaps one player on the roster who is still relatively unknown is third-year forward Joe Harris. He spent his first two seasons in the league with the Cleveland Cavaliers after being taken in the second round of the 2014 draft. At the time, the Cavs franchise was going through a rebuild of their own and seemed to be a good fit for Harris. Of course, that was before LeBron James returned to Cleveland and helped the Cavaliers become a perennial contender and 2016 champions.

With James back in the picture, playing time for Harris was scarce. In addition to James, the team also had Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and others to find minutes for. Harris would appear in just 56 games for the Cavaliers over the course of his two-year stint. He would also spend some time with the Canton Charge in the D-League.

Harris suffered a broken foot last season and was forced to sit out the rest of the year following surgery in January. He was traded and then subsequently waived shortly after his surgery. He worked over the next several months to rehab and recover from the surgery before signing a two-year, partially guaranteed deal with the Nets this past offseason.

So far this season, Harris has made the most of his opportunity with the Nets. He’s averaging a career-high 9.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 30 games off of the bench. He’s been a key member of the team’s second unit that currently ranks third in the league in bench scoring. He earned his second career start for the Nets on Monday against the Charlotte Hornets.

“I think [the opportunity has] been huge [for my career],” Harris told Basketball Insiders writer Michael Scotto. “Just being able to have the opportunity to get out and play and help contribute. My two years in Cleveland, I only really got a chance to play early on in my rookie year and then I was a little bit limited last year. Obviously, having the surgery halfway through the year kind of put me out, but it’s been great being here, being a part of something and trying to rebuild this organization.”

Teams in the midst of a rebuild typically have plenty of minutes to go around, leaving players with plenty of chances to make their best impression on the coaching staff. The second year of Harris’ contract is non-guaranteed so this season has essentially become a tryout period for him. His $1,051,245 salary for next season becomes fully guaranteed on June 30, 2017.

It can be hard sometimes for players adjusting to a new situation. They often have to learn a new system and get to know their teammates on and off of the court. Half of the battle is trying to understand their role and what they’re asked to do by their coaches on a nightly basis. It seems as though Harris has found a great situation as he tries to prove himself in the league.

The Nets have established themselves as a team that wants to run and create as many scoring opportunities as possible. They currently rank first in the league in pace, averaging 104.4 possessions per game. In addition, they’re fourth in the league in three-pointers made per game. Both of those areas seem to fit Harris’ skill-set well as he’s proven to be a good long-distance shooter throughout his playing days. On the season, he’s shooting 37.8 percent from three-point range. In four years at Virginia, Harris was a career 40 percent three-point shooter.

“You have a small percentage of superstar players [in the league] and you kind of get in where you fit in with a lot of guys that are specialized in their roles,” Harris said. “For me, I knew coming to the NBA that I wasn’t going to be one of the superstar guys and be like a main guy that I might have been in college. Everybody in the locker room is the main guy at their college or whatever professional team they might have played at before. So, you have to get in and figure out where your talents best suit the team.”

Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson are trying to create a winning environment as the team progresses forward. That begins at the top and goes down to the players. Guys on the team understand that their success won’t happen overnight and must stay committed to the process. They appear to be buying into what Marks and Atkinson are building and that sounds like a big step in the right direction.

“I think one of the big things that Kenny and Sean and everybody is always preaching about the process and sticking with it and staying with the process,” Harris said. “That’s kind of what’s on the forefront of my mind as well as everybody else’s. We’re just trying to get better day by day.”

“I think the biggest thing is still that everybody is trusting the process and staying positive,” Trevor Booker added. “I think that’s a big thing. There’s no negative talk inside the locker room. People outside the locker room, they are going to talk because they don’t know what’s really going on. They just see the record. Inside the locker room, we really know what’s going on. We’re staying positive and staying with it.”

The Nets are currently 8-22 on the season and have battled through inconsistent stretches. Not to mention, they’ve dealt with injuries to Lin and have struggled to find a suitable replacement at the point guard position. They briefly signed Yogi Ferrell to the roster earlier this season, but have since let him go and recently added Spencer Dinwiddie.

Should the team continue to slip in the standings, it could provide a bigger opportunity to give other players on the roster an increased role. The team has utilized its D-League affiliate in Long Island quite well thus far and could decide to give a player or two from that team a look as well. Regardless of where they are in the standings, Harris and the rest of the players know they are auditioning to be part of the team’s future.

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About Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer entering his fourth season with Basketball Insiders. He covers the league out of Orlando and Miami, focusing on the Southeast Division.