The Brooklyn Nets completed their free agent signings Tuesday by getting guard Joe Harris’ signature on a contract in a rare win for loyalty in pro sports.
Harris returned to the Nets primarily because Brooklyn is where he wanted to be and the Nets re-signed Harris because he more than justified the team’s faith in his future as an NBA player with his performance the last two seasons.
It was 2½ years ago that Harris was on the NBA trash pile.
Jan. 12, 2016 was not a great day for Harris — he underwent surgery on his injured foor that would sideline him for the rest of the season, was traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Orlando Magic in January 2016 to create a roster spot for an upgrade and immediately waived by the Magic after the trade call was complete.
He was 24 years old, with a foot in a cast and out of a job.
In April, Harris told Michael Scotto of The Athletic that it was a rude, but enlightening, experience about how tenuous the NBA life can be.
"Looking back on it, you don’t realize how on the ropes your career almost is. I was really naive to all of it and thankfully I was able to get picked up here directly following that and I made a perfectly fine recovery from surgery."
After agreeing to terms with the Nets earlier this month, Harris told Scotto for another piece on The Athletic that while he got larger offers from other clubs, he only had eyes on returning to Brooklyn.
"I had some offers for longer-term deals, but ultimately from the get=go, I had basically said that I wanted to stay in Brooklyn and however we could come to an agreement on that."
Harris emerged last season as a multi-dimensional threat on the offensive end, shooting 41.9 percent from 3-point range while leading the NBA in driving efficiency among players with 100 or more shot attempts, finishing with a 70.2 percent mark on his rim runs.
Harris had shot a solid, but not spectacular, 55.6 percent on those attempts in 2016-17 while knocking down 38.5 percent of his attempts from deep.
He sat out the final six weeks of the 2016-17 campaign after sustaining a concussion and injuring his left shoulder in a hard fall in a game at Utah on March 3, 2017.
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His first season in Brooklyn was solid — Harris emerged as a rotation regular after getting limited opportunities in Cleveland — as he averaged 8.2 points and 2.8 rebounds in 21.9 minutes a game while shooting.425/.385/.714.
In 2017-18, Harris made a leap forward, particularly in efficiency, improving his shooting across the board to .491/.419/.827. He also stayed healthy all season, playing in a career-high 78 games and averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 25.3 minutes a night.
When breaking his numbers down on a per-36 minutes basis, the improvement jumps out:
- He averaged more made field goals (5.6 to 4.9) in 2017-18 over 2016-17, while his average attempts dipped from 11.5 to 11.3.
- He made the same number of 3-pointers per 36 minutes (2.7) while his attempts fell from 7.0 to 6.5.
- Harris committed one fewer personal foul per 36 minutes, dropping from 3.8 to 2.8 as his defensive awareness and experience grew.
- His scoring per 36 minutes went from 13.5 points to 15.4.
Per NBA.com/stats, Harris posted a 104.5 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) in 2017-18 to go with a defensive rating of 108.4. Those numbers compare to ratings of 97.4 and 107.9 in 2016-17.
Harris looks to play a similar role in 2018-19, a role he described as:
"My job is to knock down shots, help create space on the floor and by no means am I the go-to guy. My role is to play tough defensively and then help create space for all of our facilitators that we have and to be opportunistic when there are striking opportunities."
After earning a shade more than $1.5 million last season, Harris is fully guaranteed on his new deal for $8 million a season. Still, no one would have begrudged him taking a longer deal for more money.
An athletic career is finite at best and players are looking to maximize their earnings in a short period of time.
But Harris was grateful to the Nets for giving him his first real opportunity to be an NBA player. Brooklyn was happy their faith in Harris was rewarded with such solid play.
In a professional sports environment where loyalty is often non-existent, the marriage of Joe Harris and the Brooklyn Nets represents an exception to that rule.