As an NBA player and a rising two-way wing at that, on a team like the Denver Nuggets that is trying to take a major leap and make an offseason splash, you have to be ready for anything thrown your way. Especially during the summer, when trade rumors spring like dandelions in an abandoned lawn.
On June 30, all three sides – the Cavs, Pacers, and Nuggets – thought they had a deal that would wire Love to Denver, Paul George to Cleveland and Harris, along with other pieces to Indiana, according to ESPN. Plans were then reportedly made for a conference call to take place between George and Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert, essentially to finalize the deal. All sides thought the trade was a go before Pacers’ general manager Kevin Pritchard, via text message, said he was backing out of the agreed-upon terms.
“It’s mixed emotions. At the end of the day it’s out of my control,” Harris said of the rumors. “I really don’t stress about it too much because it’s either, I’m gonna stay or I’m gonna leave. So it’s pretty simple. I’m glad I’m still here and I’m looking forward to (next season).”
Harris could have played a larger and leading role on a rebuilding team like the Pacers, but with the Nuggets he’s still a crucial ingredient to Denver’s mixture of Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, and a slew of role players that have heightened expectations in Denver, especially among the veterans.
“It’s real for me, for sure,” Darrell Arthur said about next season’s expectations. “I’ve been talking to coach all summer, it’s real for him. I feel like if there’s a year to make some noise and get some stuff done it’s going to be this year.”
Harris will play a huge role in determining whether the Nuggets’ season is a success. He’s locked in at Denver’s starting shooting guard slot and expected to play at least 30 minutes per game. The Michigan State product is also a concrete example of what the Nuggets have morphed into over the past two seasons: A pass-happy, unselfish team that relies on a free-flowing offense, based on read-and-react actions centered around Jokic.
Harris, who plays well off of Jokic, has transformed himself into one of the best off-ball cutters in the league and thrives in the role Denver needs as a secondary option next to Jokic, Wilson Chandler and soon, Jamal Murray.
But that’s also why Harris was so desirable as a trade asset. He’s young, with an assortment of plus attributes and considered durable even though injuries limited him to 57 games last year. He’s also coming off a junior season where he averaged 14.9 points on above 50 percent shooting from the field and a striking 42.0 percent from three.
Some of those offensive numbers could be inflated by Jokic’s presence but it’s undeniable the growth Harris displayed last year. He’s a stout defender despite Denver’s lackluster team metrics and has another leap left to make — one that could have been accelerated with more minutes and more responsibility on offense in a situation like Indiana.
What were Harris’ emotions like after hearing about that reported trade? Only he knows, but less than 24 hours after word of his involvement in the trade leaked, Harris was on a plane to Atlanta to help the Nuggets and their front office pitch free agent Paul Millsap.
“You can’t really take it personal. It’s part of it. At least my name was brought up. I guess that’s kind of a good thing,” Harris suggested alluding to the fact that other teams are recognizing his talent. “It is what it is. I don’t think too much into it.”
The Nuggets landed Millsap in short order and agreed to a three-year $90 million contract with the four-time All-Star.
Harris, through trade rumors, plane flights and free-agent pitches kept his cool and continued to treat this league like what it is: A business. On Tuesday, he sat on stage alongside Arthur and modeled the Nuggets’ new Nike jerseys.
In a couple months, the 22-year-old, who’s considered a veteran by Denver’s standards, will try to help lead the Nuggets to their first playoff appearance in five seasons.