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.
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