Veteran Harris key brick in Nets’ foundation
The longest-tenured Brooklyn player weighs in on team’s major rebuild.
As the longest-tenured Net, by just a few weeks over teammate Caris LeVert, Joe Harris had a birds-eye view of Brooklyn’s massive rebuilding project these past three years.
And the NBA’s reigning 3-Point Shootout champion liked what he saw from the very beginning to where the Nets are now, on the precipice of seriously competing again for their first-ever NBA title.
“I think when [general manager] Sean [Marks] and [head coach] Kenny [Atkinson] got in and then assembled the team you could see stuff transitioning and changing,” Harris told the team’s website earlier this week during Summer League action at UNLV’s Thomas & Marck Arena in Las Vegas.
“Obviously it’s a slow process,” added Harris, who finished this past season with an NBA-best 47.3 shooting percentage from 3-point range, backing up his dramatic victory over Golden State’s Stephen Curry during this year’s All-Star festivities.
The process, as Harris calls it, went a bit quicker than either he or anyone else around Downtown Brooklyn anticipated.
When Harris officially signed with the Nets on June 19, 2016, the team was headed toward an NBA-worst 20-62 mark in Atkinson’s initial campaign as head coach and Marks’ first full season at the helm.
The Nets made an impressive eight-game improvement on that putrid mark in 2017-18 and soared into the playoffs last year with a 42-40 record, their first winning season in half a decade, before bowing out to Philadelphia in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Now, they are expected to seriously vie for the conference crown, as well as the NBA title, over the next four years after Sunday’s free-agent windfall in which the team acquired the superstar tandem of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Harris, who suffered through extended losing streaks, watched key players suffer season-ending injuries and saw most of his original Nets teammates get lopped off the roster, is glad to still be a part of what many hope will become Brooklyn’s first major pro sports championships team since 1955.
“You didn’t anticipate it happening as quickly as it did or in the manner that it happened,” Harris readily admitted.
“But I think at some point everybody could kind of see the tide turning. Obviously, we had a great year this past year, but then to go out and make the splash in free agency. It sort of solidified the come up of this organization.”
Harris, LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs are the key returnees to a team that will also field Durant, Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler.
That’s a lot of new pieces to fit into what Atkinson and Marks hope to mold into a title-winning puzzle.
But for Harris, who enjoyed a career-best season in which he averaged 13.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 2018-19, the Nets’ way of doing things, both internally and on the hardwood, is the reason high-priced superstar free agents decided to make their next stop the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.
“When you do stuff the right way, and people see sort of the enthusiasm that the team plays with, the culture that’s been built, that’s there, everybody recognizes it,” said Harris.
“And everybody knows that the Nets are a first-class organization from the top down, from ownership to the front office, coaches. There’s a clear synergy there where it’s something you would want to be a part of and obviously there’s a lot of other things that factor into it. But I think establishing that foundation, that culture early on is just as important as anything else that’s happened along the way.”
It certainly was.
Players like Harris, LeVert and Dinwiddie were basically reclamation projects, due to injury or underperformance with their former employers.
All three emerged as key pieces in the rebuilding of this franchise, and all three will get a chance to play alongside Durant, whenever he returns from his Achilles injury, and Irving, who is raring to go in 2019-2020.
Harris has already enjoyed the experience of playing alongside Irving in Cleveland during his rookie season with the Cavaliers in 2014-15.
“I would say you could ask a lot of people that played with him and they’d all say that he’s a great teammate and a good guy to be around,” said Harris, deflecting some of the negative attention Irving has received for his inability to get along with teammates, coaches and/or management in previous stops.
“None of us are perfect all the time,” Harris insisted. “We’re all going to have ups and downs throughout the course of the season. For him, unfortunately, he’s just in one of these scenarios where there is so much more attention on him and people are paying much more attention to when he does have an off day. It’s a little bit different than people like me. I have off days all the time too, but nobody really cares when I have an off day. People care when Kyrie does.”
They certainly will during this first season here in Brooklyn, when Durant is slated to be sidelined for most, if not all, of the campaign.
Irving will be the one taking most of the heat if the Nets fail to build on their breakthrough campaign. But Harris intimated that he’s not overly concerned with how Irving will respond to the pressure of playing here in Brooklyn or carrying a hunk of the load before Durant hits the court.
“He’s one of these guys where he’s very much must-see,” Harris noted. “We all know the talent, but like I got to see it for a year and a half every day in practice. Every day on the court and he really is that talented. He’s a top-10 talent.”
Nothing But Net: The Nets revealed their four-game preseason schedule this week. The team will open preseason play by hosting SESI/Franca Basketball Club of Brazil at the Barclays Center on Oct. 4. They then travel to China for a pair of exhibitions, both against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. The first game will be played on Oct. 10 in Shanghai and the second two days later in Shenzhen. This will be Brooklyn’s third trip to China following previous excursions to the Far East in 2010 and 2014. The Nets will finish off their preseason slate at the part-time home of the New York Islanders, NYCB Live, on Oct. 18 vs. the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors. Tickets for the Oct. 4 game at Barclays Center and the one at Nassau Coliseum are available now and can be purchased at brooklynnets.com and ticketmaster.com, or by calling 718-NETS-TIX.
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