Brooklyn Building Block Joe Harris Gets a Kyrie Irving Reunion
Nets sharpshooter played with new Net during first two NBA seasons in Cleveland
LAS VEGAS — From 20 wins to the playoffs to a prime destination for the biggest free agents — with his own personal pit stop for a spotlight at last season’s All-Star Weekend — Joe Harris has been in from the start of a remarkable Brooklyn Nets resurgence that kicked into overdrive with the free agent signings of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan this week.
At a time when general manager Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson were just getting started and searching for talent, Harris was part of their first free agent class, one that looked very different from the one they just signed. It’s turned into a perfect match of player, coach, and organization.
“I think when Sean and Kenny got in and then assembled the team you could see stuff transitioning and changing,” said Harris on Monday afternoon while Brooklyn’s Summer League squad played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Arena. “Obviously it’s a slow process. You didn’t anticipate it happening as quickly as it did or in the manner that it happened. 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.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Atkinson cited players like Harris and Caris LeVert — now the two longest-tenured Nets from their summer of 2016 acquisitions — as keys for establishing and maintaining the culture that helped attract the big free agent haul.
Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie, signed a few months later after the season began, have been the gems of the Nets search and development process; two players who were out of the league and grown into core pieces.
Each season, Harris and the Nets took a step forward. As Brooklyn grew into a playoff team, Harris became a full-time starter in his third season with the Nets, leading the league in shooting 47.4 percent from 3-point range, his second straight season above 40 percent.
He also averaged career highs of 13.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 50 percent overall.
“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.”
Rising to 42 wins and the playoffs, the Nets were one of the NBA’s great stories of the 2018-19 season. But this is a league that doesn’t lack for storylines and drama. And one of them was the fate of Durant, Irving and a star-studded potential free agent class after the season.
There was no shortage of rumors over the course of the season, plenty of them couched as fact or fait accompli. Sometimes players are turned into the truth, and sometimes they’re spectators waiting to see what happens just like everybody else. Finally, on June 30, facts ruled the day and rumors were replaced by reality. Durant and Irving were bound for Brooklyn.
“You hear rumblings over the course of the season,” said Harris. “But with KD, I don’t think anybody was really sure at all until literally that last day. I think we had more of an idea that Kyrie was interested in coming to Brooklyn, but with KD and DeAndre, that was more like the day of.”
While Durant has friendly connections with LeVert and the newly acquired Taurean Prince, Harris has had a more up-close experience with Irving. He was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 and was a rookie during Irving’s fourth pro season in Cleveland, one in which he was named to the All-NBA Third Team.
“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. “None of us are perfect all the time. 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.”
Mostly, Irving left a big impression with Harris on the court.
“I remember seeing him have like 57 when we played against the Spurs in San Antonio,” said Harris. “It was one of the better individual performances I’ve ever seen on the basketball court especially live. He’s one of these guys where he’s very much must-see. 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.”
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