Mike James figured out how to navigate the corridors at Barclays Center, picked up as many names as he could — give him a couple chances, it might take a little while — and got right to work on day one as a Brooklyn Net.
With James signed to a 10-day contract on Friday afternoon, head coach Steve Nash said in his pregame session that it was likely James would see the court immediately for the shorthanded Nets, who had six players out on the status report. It all added up to 21 minutes of action in the 109-104 win over the Celtics for the veteran guard who played 41 games this season in Russia for CSKA Moscow.
A 6-foot-1 combo guard, James gives Brooklyn needed depth in the lead guard role with James Harden, Tyler Johnson, and Chris Chiozza all out.
“Just trying to get comfortable really,” said James. “When you go into a situation, a new situation, you kind of just want to have a chance to mess up and still be able to play a little bit. I felt like my teammates and coaches encouraged me to be aggressive and keep pushing the pace, and I think I made some good stuff happen and I made some bad stuff happen. So got to get better for the next game really.”
James entered the game late in the first quarter and was on the floor as the Nets turned a 25-21 deficit at the start of the second quarter into a 48-41 lead by the time he subbed back out with 4:46 to go in the half. The Nets never gave that lead away in holding off the Celtics down the stretch.
Brooklyn was plus-17 with James on the floor as he finished with eight points, two assists, and two rebounds.
“I thought he did great,” said Nash. “It’s not an easy position to come in and meet your teammates for the first time and play an NBA game on national TV. He’s been in the league before, and obviously, he’s had a terrific season in Europe. We know he’s a talented player. He obviously can score the ball, but I was really impressed with his pace, his ability to draw and kick and make the offense run faster and create openings for his teammates.”
James played 36 NBA games during the 2017-18 season, averaging 10.4 points and 3.8 assists while starting 10 of the 32 games he played for Phoenix before finishing off the season with New Orleans. He headed back abroad after that, having begun his professional career overseas in 2012.
James starred for Olimpia Milano during the 2018-19 season, averaging 19.8 points per game to win the Alphonso Ford EuroLeague Top Scorer Trophy while leading the team to the Italian SuperCup title. He was averaging 17.8 points and 5.1 assists for CSKA Moscow this season.
“I didn’t really know if I wanted to play in the NBA again,” said James. “I was getting paid well and I liked playing a lot and having a star role. Just as you get older, I just don’t want to have that much responsibility on my shoulders every night. Playing 21 minutes a night is better for me and just not being as much of a focal point and just trying to help out. I feel like I can shine in that if I got the opportunity.”