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Wednesday July 23, 2008 2:00 PM

More Than Mr. Nice Guy



Harris developing well-rounded game in effort to stay in Houston

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer
HOUSTON - It’s impossible not to like Mike Harris.

On the court, he’s a tireless worker with an almost zen-like quality to his game. While many of his summer league teammates and opponents frenetically scrambled around the Las Vegas hardwood in a desperate attempt to impress, Harris moved with the precise, smooth movements of someone thoughtful, experienced and confident enough to know exactly where he was going, and what it would take to get there.

None of this is genuinely surprising because, off the court, Harris exudes similar qualities. He is engaging and often speaks in measured, carefully-crafted tones. Though just 25, the former Rice University star projects a maturity which belies his years; of course, hopscotching all over the globe while pursuing one’s dream has a tendency to do that to a man. Among Harris’ professional stops so far: Milwaukee, Colorado, Ukraine and China.

Yet for all the characteristics which make him a great teammate and better person, Harris possesses a fundamental flaw in the eyes of NBA talent evaluators: He is a power forward stuffed into the body of a shooting guard. In Vegas, that problem was easily overcome because the overall quality and length of the summer league bigs were nothing compared to that possessed by the fours and fives of the NBA. If Harris found himself inside, he was able to neutralize any size disadvantage with his explosiveness, strength and savvy. But in order to regain his spot on the crowded Rockets’ roster, the 6-6, 240-pound Hillsboro native knows he has to be more than an interior force; he’ll have to improve his shooting, ball-handling and perimeter defense. In short, he needs to bend his game to better suit his body – and the height limitations which come with it.

“Yeah, I do,” he says. “Right now is just the same situation as last year. I don’t go into it negatively. If you go in there down on yourself and just think, ‘Oh, I’m just here as another guy,’ you won’t have a significant impact, and you won’t be able to contribute and do the things that you do well. I think this year I’m able to do more things better than I was last year, so I just want to be able to show the coaches and the veteran players on the team that I know I can help.”

The coaching staff has definitely noticed the work Harris has put in this summer. He’s slimmed down in an effort to increase his quickness and agility. He’s been a fixture on the Toyota Center practice court. But finding room on the Rockets’ roster these days is almost as tough as finding an affordable flat in Manhattan.

“We know Mike pretty well,” says head coach Rick Adelman. “He played very well last summer and he’s played well this summer. But a lot of times this league is about numbers. We like Mike a lot as a coaching staff and we know what he brings, but we’re just going to have to see how it plays out as we get further down into training camp and see where our roster is.”

Obviously, it won’t be easy. But Harris is used to that by now. He just responds the only way he can: with more hard work and diligence.

It’s just one more reason why you have to like Mike.