Joe Harris, as role grows, makes compelling case to start for Cavaliers


BOSTON – Cavaliers coach David Blatt was asked what he could say about Joe Harris, the rookie shooting guard who played the entire fourth quarter of Cleveland’s comeback win over the Celtics on Friday.

“What do I say about him?” Blatt said. “Well, I put him in there, so I guess I said everything I had to say about him. I believe in the kid.”

That faith in Harris could reportedly soon morph into a starting job for the No. 33 pick.

Shawn Marion is still starting at shooting guard, playing regularly in the backcourt for the first time since started at point guard for Vincennes, the junior college he attended before transferring to UNLV. Dion Waiters, who campaigned during the offseason to join the starting lineup and began the year there, remains on the roster. The Cavaliers could are also reportedly interested in trading for Corey Brewer.

But Harris could emerge as a starter in a lineup that also includes LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

Wide-eyed and talking a mile a minute, Harris – who’d been sitting alone in a chaotic locker room full of reporters eager to follow Cleveland’s big three – said before Friday’s game he was beginning to get comfortable in the NBA after his four-year career at Virginia.

“You’re just trying to soak it all in and take in as much as you can in your rookie year,” Harris said.

While Harris is doing that, he’s giving the Cavaliers quite a bit.

He hit a clutch 3-pointer against the Celtics and made all three free throws after being fouled on another attempt down the stretch in Boston. Against the Hawks on Saturday, Harris doubled his previous career high with 12 points and raised his season total to 6-of-12 on 3-pointers.

Harris is a Cavaliers-best +62 despite ranking just ninth on the team in minutes.

“Joe Harris is going to be a big piece for our team,” LeBron said. “He’s going to have his rookie mistakes. We all know that. But mistakes can be covered when you play hard, and that’s one thing that kid is doing.”

Most importantly, Harris is showing he fits with LeBron, Love and Irving – no matter whether Anderson Varejao or Tristan Thompson is playing center. Varejao starts, but Thompson has played nearly as much.

With the big three, Cleveland has played well with Marion-Varejao but not Marion-Thompson, well with Waiters-Thompson but not Waiters-Varejao. Harris-Varejao and Harris-Thompson has worked just swell.

Here’s how the Cavaliers have performed with LeBron, Love, Irving and each of the main shooting guard-center combinations on the floor:

Shooting guard Center Minutes Offensive rating Defensive rating Net rating
Harris Varejao 14 132.6 114.2 +18.4
Harris Thompson 10 140.6 113.2 +27.4
Marion Varejao 65 118.1 115.4 +2.7
Marion Thompson 20 81.7 101.3 -19.5
Waiters Varejao 47 99.1 107.4 -8.3
Waiters Thompson 18 134.7 106.8 +27.8

Of course, we’re dealing with small samples everywhere at this point at this point of the season, especially with Harris. And Harris’ increase in playing time has overlapped with the big three getting a better feel for playing with each other.

But an excellent spot-up shooter, Harris seems like a good fit with LeBron, Love and Irving. Citing stats from the Cavaliers, Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal reported Harris made 57 percent of his corner 3s at Virginia last season. Those stars will get Harris plenty of those highly efficient looks.

At 6-foot-6, Harris also has the size to play competent defense in a sound team scheme – especially one where LeBron can roam and create plays.

So, traditional scouting also says Harris fits well with the big three. In a slightly larger sample, the numbers bear that out:

With big three Minutes Offensive rating Defensive rating Net rating
Harris 30 137.2 98.7 +38.5
Marion 98 112.3 107.7 +4.7
Waiters 75 113.9 109.6 +4.3

Of course, regardless of the fit, starting for a contending team is a challenge for any rookie.

Magic Johnson famously started for the 1979-80 Lakers in his first year, but since the NBA began tracking starts two years later, just two rookies having started even somewhat regularly for an NBA champion:

  • Kurt Rambis, 43 starts for the 1981-82 Lakers
  • Marc Iavaroni, 77 starts for the 1982-83 76ers

Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Harris has yet to start even a single game for Cleveland.

But as the Cavaliers search for the shooting guard who fits best in their starting lineup, it just might be Harris.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff


The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci


The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.