Nets were always my ‘No. 1 priority’

In Joe Harris’ case, familiarity didn’t breed contempt; it bred comfort.

It was in Brooklyn that Harris basically grew up from waiver fodder to an NBA standout. And after signing one of the biggest contracts in team history to remain a Net, he said he never seriously thought about leaving.

“I narrowed in with the Nets. … You’re only allowed to talk the day free agency started at 6 p.m., but I was allowed to have dialogue with the team you’re currently with,” Harris said. “I talked with [general manager] Sean [Marks], [coach] Steve [Nash], my teammates in the lead-up, and I didn’t even give a ton of thought to leaving. … You have to entertain other options, but my No. 1 priority was to try and come back to Brooklyn.”

Harris did just that, with a four-year, $75 million deal — $72 million of it guaranteed — that was fifth-biggest in Nets history. It’s a far cry from the unproven youngster picked up off the NBA scrap heap in 2016.

That Jan. 12 had been a tough one for Harris, traded by Cleveland, undergoing season-ending foot surgery and then finding out as he was coming out of anesthesia that he’d been waived by Orlando. Harris ended up having his rehab at Hospital for Special Surgery on the Upper East Side, and his physical therapy with Pro Hoops NYC director Ross Burns, who has connections with the Nets.

Joe Harris
Joe HarrisAP

He had no idea at the time what New York had in store for him.

“It was a pretty wild coincidence the fact that I elected to come here,” said Harris. “Was lucky to have a guy here, Ross Burns and his brother, Tim Burns … that helped me get my footing, get myself back ready to play. And then fate behold, I ended up staying in New York; and now you’re looking back on it, it’s five years ago. Definitely lucky it all played out the way it did. I couldn’t be more thankful.”

Harris has a lot to be thankful for. Brooklyn assistant Bret Brielmaier — who had been an assistant in Cleveland for Harris’ first two seasons — helped convince the Nets to throw the small forward a two-year, $2 million lifeline.

Since then, Harris has built himself into one of the league’s best shooters. He won the 2019 3-point crown, and is the best deep shooter in the league over the past three years at .439 percent. That shared familiarity was a big reason Harris never even engaged other teams this offseason.

“Yeah, it played a huge role. You definitely cannot take that for granted,” said Harris, 29. “You look back over the course of your NBA career and I was allowed an opportunity here when I really didn’t have a ton elsewhere four years ago.

“It meant a lot to me to come back to a place where I was familiar with, having coaches, front office, teammates that all believe in you and value you. Personally that was one of the biggest things [and] played a critical role in why I wanted to come back.”

Of course, the Nets made it easy. Owner Joe Tsai anteed up to go about $50 million deep into the luxury tax for what some around the NBA deemed an overpayment. It’s a commitment that isn’t lost on Harris.

“It means a lot,” said Harris, whose contact includes $500,000 worth of annual incentives according to Spotrac. Those can include things like winning an NBA title — a lofty goal Harris and his Nets aren’t shying away from.

“We know it’s a long road to where we want to go and it’s about taking it one day at a time and trying to get better. … But at the end of the road, we definitely have championship aspirations and we would be fooling ourselves if we said we didn’t.”

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