Heat Treatment

Harrellson’s time rubbing shoulders with Heat paid off for him

Josh Harrellson learned from his experience with the Miami Heat.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)

MIAMI – Josh Harrellson watched his new Miami teammates receive their 2012 championship rings that November but was gone before they doused themselves in champagne to celebrate a successful title defense a few months later.

He might spend a wistful moment or two thinking about what might have been, but mostly Harrellson is thankful for the lessons learned by rubbing shoulders with not only some of the most talented basketball players of his generation but also some of the smartest and most competitive.

“It was awesome,” Harrellson said of his nearly four months spent as a member of the Heat last season. “Those guys are very knowledgeable and they go every day. They don’t take days off. They go out there and practice hard every day they’re on the court and they’re competing just like they do in games. That’s how I think they’re so successful – because it just transitions over for them.

“It’s easy for those guys. Not only LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh, but also Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier – players like that have been around the game so long and are very good players. They taught me a lot, too.”

Harrellson spent his rookie season with New York and made an impact greater than his draft slot, 45th in 2011 after helping carry Kentucky to the national championship game. He was traded to Houston after the season and then became a waiver victim of the Rockets’ desire to create cap space to lure free agents, but signed with the Heat in time for training camp in 2012.

It was a non-guaranteed contract, though, and the Heat – for whom even minimum-wage contracts can become onerous due to luxury tax implications – waived Harrellson before the January date when his contract had to be fully guaranteed.

The Heat cut another player, Terrel Harris, just before Harrellson, who thought he’d survive as he prepared to get on the Heat’s plane for a West Coast trip the day before the deadline.

“The flight was at 3 and around 1 I was like, ‘Cool. I must be good,’ ” Harrellson said as the Pistons prepared to play Miami tonight at American Airlines Arena, where they beat the Heat by 10 in early December. “I got the call about 1:30.”

The Heat waived Harrellson, then signed him back to a 10-day contract. Teams can sign players to two 10-day deals before they must commit to them, but before the Heat could approach Harrellson about a second deal he told his agent to seek other opportunities. Some NBA teams asked him to go to the D-League while they decided whether to sign him or not. Harrellson wound up playing in Puerto Rico and China, where he was named MVP.

The Pistons had liked Harrellson coming into the 2011 draft and saw his skill set – a 3-point shooter in a burly body who could set picks and rebound – as a good complementary fit with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. They offered him a non-guaranteed deal, but this year’s January deadline came and went with no drama for Harrellson.

He’s played in 32 of 46 games, averaging 10 minutes, 2.9 points and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 39 percent from the 3-point arc when he plays. Mo Cheeks has given Harrellson, Jonas Jerebko, Gigi Datome and Charlie Villanueva chances to be the fourth big man in the power rotation behind Drummond, Monroe and Josh Smith. Harrellson has played nearly 100 more minutes than Jerebko, second on the list, and is currently the player Cheeks uses when he needs another body up front.

“You just be ready, be focused,” he said. “Just try to do what I have to do – practice hard, continue to do what I’m doing in the gym, come early, work out, get my shots up, lift. Just stay competitive and stay strong and if he calls my number, I’m going to go in there and play hard.”

“Josh just knows how to play,” Cheeks said recently, repeating a line he’s used often about Harrellson.

It was a trait the Pistons saw in Harrellson during their college scouting of him, too, and they kept that in the back of their minds for when the need for what he offers arose last summer. He soaked up a little more knowledge, not only about the game but the preparation and dedication required to play and win at the highest level, during his time with the Heat.

“It was nice. It was like living a dream,” he said. “Playing for one of the greatest franchises in basketball, playing with some of the greatest layers in basketball and being able to wake up in Miami every day, 70 degrees, it just made you enjoy life.”

Of course, waking up in the NBA, no matter what the temperature, is better than waking up in China, Puerto Rico or the D-League, Harrellson knows. So he’s relishing his time with the Pistons, too.

“I don’t think anybody would take Detroit’s weather over Miami’s, but I enjoy it,” he said. “I grew up with all four seasons, so when I was down here, I missed the snow. It’s nice to have it back. But this is a bad winter. It’s crazy.”