Zach Lowe’s podcast with Joe Harris and Sarah Kustok was a lot about happiness. Lowe intimated that Kustok may be too happy. Harris admitted that people criticized him for not smiling during the three-point contest on All Star Weekend or being overtly happy after he won it.
But most of the “happy talk” was about the team, the Nets have created a rare space for players to be positive about themselves and the organization. And yes, if you were playing the “culture” and “character” drinking game, you’d have been hospitalized after listening to the hour and 10 minute joint interview.
“You see it from the top down. you can go to every fraction of the organization and you would have very similarly minded people. real unselfish, high character, genuine, just kind people who care about one another and that goes for the coaching staff to the performance staff to equipment staff to ball boys ... everywhere ... teammates,” Harris told Lowe. “There’s just no bad people in the organization at all. I think a lot of just come in to work everyday and we are all just happy to be here. We just enjoy being around one another.”
Later, he simply noted that “the appreciation we have for one another is genuine and authentic.”
That enjoyment level is part of what makes the team successful, added Kustok who pointed out how much the team spending last summer in Brooklyn —practicing, hanging out— helped them surprise the league.
“Everyone needed to take a jump in order for the team to take a leap,” said Kustok. “Always around the league we talk about playing hard and playing smart and doing the little things, but to me, it’s time and effort that everyone spent here in Brooklyn all summer.”
The YES broadcaster also credited Kenny Atkinson and the coaching staff with bringing a lot of random personalities together. She pointed to how even the team’s big egos, like Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell, fit into the overall mix of the organization.
“Chemistry with this group is off the charts,” she noted.
Harris agree and noted that one key to that chemistry is “transparency,” where if you buy in, no matter who you are, you know how you stand.
“Kenny and Sean and the coaching staff — primarily the coaching staff — I think they do a good job of having a level of transparency,” said Harris. He added that Kenny will take players aside and explain what’s going on and tell them, “stay ready,” “have a level of professionalism.” that their opportunity will come.
The culture, he noted, will improve the team ... and lead to those jumps by individual players.
“Everyone is now so comfortable around one another you’re sort of the best version of yourself,” Harris explained. “You’re not like insecure or think you have to prove something or act one way or another.”
It’s not easy, he argued, but it works. Players know they are at the top of their profession but also know they have to fit within a system, differences in personality aside.
“Essentially you’re among the best of the best, the alphas, and trying to figure out how to fit in. Sometimes you might have a tendency to be a little brash or overzealous or whatever it might be.”
Harris returned on more than one occasion to the value of the team’s somewhat anonymous staff, noting that Jordan Ott, the assistant who he’s worked with, is “so in tune with my game personally. He understands the way that I play.”
And yes, he adds, Ott showed him tape of Kyle Korver early on —it was more than lip service— but also ways to improve his overall game, from finishing, where he is among the league leaders, to defense.
There’s a LOT more there, like how his teammates call Dinwiddie “Google” because he has an answer for everything, how players compare New York restaurants and how yes, the temptations of New York can sometimes prove too much for an opponent the night before a game.
“Playing in New York we know there are occasional times when guys are enjoying being in the city,” Harris said with a laugh.