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Is it OK to say that everybody roots for Joe Harris?
The Cavaliers sophomore guard is a tough ballplayer, a dedicated, hard-working teammate, a really great guy and, yes, honest to a fault.
After a solid rookie season in Cleveland – appearing in 51 games on a roster full of accomplished veterans and reaching the Finals as an NBA freshman – Harris returned to Summer League in Vegas this offseason. But as the only roster player on the squad, Harris didn’t shine like some had hoped.
But instead of making excuses, the sharpshooter from Chelan, Washington copped to his summer shortcomings.
“Looking back on Summer League, it probably didn’t go the way a lot of people expected it to go,” said Harris. “The coaches really wanted me to work on some of the stuff that I probably wouldn’t necessarily do with the Cavs, in terms of just trying to facilitate stuff offensively. A lot of stuff was run through me and I was either making a play for one of my teammates or being the aggressor and trying to score. It’s a difficult transition, trying to back and forth, but at the same time, I think my focus and approach to it wasn’t where it should have been."
"It wasn’t a vacation by any means. We were going down there to put some work in – and we were working out two, three times a day and really getting after it."
”I probably should have treated it with a lot more focus than I did. As soon as the Finals were over with I didn’t really do anything until I went to Summer League. I didn’t treat it with the respect that I should have treated it with; I should have been preparing for it the right way. But again, it’s a learning experience. Preparation is such a big thing and you should never take that for granted. I learned that going from the Finals into Summer League.”
Most rookies wouldn’t admit to that. And it’s hard to blame the kid anyway. Most Cavalier fans have freely admitted feeling spent after these past Finals, let alone a 24-year-old who – despite being Virginia hoops’ all-time games-played leader – never played more than 37 games in a single season.
Last year, Harris appeared in just over half of the Cavaliers 102 regular and postseason contests. His final Eastern Conference action literally had his name on it – gift-wrapped by the game’s biggest star.
”I told our guys at halftime – I said, our motivation for the second half is to get Joe Harris into the game,” smiled LeBron James at the postgame podium, after the Cavaliers waxed Atlanta to sweep the Eastern Conference Finals. “And they answered the call.”
(Lost behind that quote was the fact that Harris answered LeBron’s call with a purpose: scoring seven points in six minutes going 2-for-2 from the floor, including a bomb with 4:27 remaining to put Cleveland up 27.)
By the backend of the postseason, Harris – the squad’s only rookie – was limited to mop-up duty. But the man who hit the second-most treys in Virginia school history had already had a nice inaugural season.
In his 51 appearances, Harris got one start – and he took advantage of it, going 6-for-12 from the floor for 16 points (albeit in one of the season’s weirdest games: the January 5 loss to Philly on the night of the Dion Waiters-for-Smith-and-Shump deal).
That night saw Harris’ third double-digit scoring game of the season for Cleveland. But he continued his strong play with the Canton Charge – averaging 12.1 points in 11 games, including 20.0 ppg over his last four.
In preparation for his sophomore season, Harris headed for South Beach at LeBron’s behest, and it’s got him geared up for Camp.
“Miami was good, just in terms of team camaraderie and chemistry,” beamed the 6-6, 225-pound swingman. “It wasn’t a vacation by any means. We were going down there to put some work in – and we were working out two, three times a day and really getting after it. I think part of the reason why LeBron did that was just to make sure that everybody’s on the same page in terms of just getting locked-in and focused for Training Camp the right way.”
Part of coming to Camp the right way meant shedding a few pounds. Harris didn’t exactly gain the “freshman-15” in the offseason, but he knows that he needs to get streamlined for his sophomore season.
(Remember what we said earlier about Joe being honest to a fault …)
”I was a little bit heavy at Summer League – in terms of my playing weight,” conceded Harris. “The way I play – I’m the guy moving, coming off screens, getting up and down the floor. I should be one of the better-conditioned athletes out there. So that was a focus for me. Especially talking with guys like Champ (James Jones), who plays a similar style to myself."
“The conditioning aspect of things is really important, obviously in basketball, and then specifically for players like me. And it’s something that I really focused on after Summer League. I weighed around 230 lbs. and that’s not really an ideal playing weight for me. So I focused on being more disciplined with my nutrition and sleep and worrying more about taking care of my body the right way and being more professional with that approach."
An NBA rookie’s season can be a true whirlwind, and in that, Harris took the nutritional aspect of his job for granted.
"I know what I need to do, my role with this team, and I think that gives you sort of an inner-confidence as well."
“Coming into my rookie year, I could kind of eat whatever I wanted – you’re really not too concerned about it,” continued Harris. “But you don’t realize that a pound here and there is really not a good thing. It’s just basic physics: it’s harder to move faster and jump higher when you weigh more. So, I just cleaned it up – trying to eat cleaner foods. "
”I’m not a picky eater, so I don’t mind eating some of the stuff – like, the egg-white omelette with spinach and mushrooms and tomatoes – which is something I typically wouldn’t like to eat. But I don’t necessarily mind it, and now that I’ve been eating that way, I kinda prefer it. It’s for the best. And when you think about it, it is my job – to take care of my body. And my approach to it wasn’t as professional as it should have been in my rookie year.”
A leaner and meaner Joe Harris comes into his sophomore campaign looking to build off an educational initial season on the North Coast. After working out with most of his mates in Miami, he’s back at Cleveland Clinic Courts in the quiet before the storm.
“I feel a lot more confident going into the season,” concluded Harris. “Just because you have a year under your belt and because as long as you put the work in and you know that you’ve prepared yourself the right way and to the best of your ability, that’s about all you can even begin to start worrying about."
“The first year, you’re just new to everything. But now I kind of have an idea of what Training Camp is going to be like, what the preseason will be like. Now, I’m familiar with a lot my teammates. There are some new guys but the core group of guys is still around. So it’s not like it’s gonna be an unfamiliar situation. So I just feel pretty good. I know what I need to do, my role with this team, and I think that gives you sort of an inner-confidence as well.”
And along with that nutritional knowledge and that inner-confidence, Joe Harris has one more thing that goes along with becoming a NBA sophomore: Not having to carry around that silly pink “Frozen” backpack everywhere he goes.
”Yeah, that part’s gonna be nice -- real nice!”