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For Joe Harris, ‘culture’ isn’t just a word. It’s the foundation stone

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Brooklyn Nets v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This may seem the best day to talk culture, after two back-breaking last second losses. Then again, it may be. It’s the culture that sustains a team —any team— in a crisis.

As Taurean Prince said after last night’s game, “I’m already on to the next game.” Got to move on, learn, be accountable.

We’ve heard a lot about culture over the years, at the start from Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson, then some more from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when they signed last summer. We’ve joked about it, proposed drinking games around Marks press conferences. Anytime the GM would say, the word, it was “drink up.” You could get pretty smashed.

Joe Harris, on the other hand, offers a different perspective. He has been around since Day 1, to be specific July 19, 2016 when he signed a vets minimum deal. He can tell you how it works and what it means. No joke. He spoke recently with Tom Dowd of the Nets official site.

Harris compared the Nets culture to a Division 1 college culture, like the one he had at Virginia, listing aspects of it he found in both Charlottesville and Brooklyn.

“Everything was built on high-character individuals across the board, whether it was the managers, players, performance staff. Everybody was cut from the same cloth and everybody held each other to a really high standard in terms of implementing a foundation of cultural values,” Harris told Dowd. “I think when I first got here to Brooklyn that was sort of the same approach with Kenny and Sean.”

He also noted that the Nets were guided by that culture when looking at free agents back in the summer of 2016.

“There are a lot of opportunities to bring in a lot of different guys, especially in that first year, and they elected to bring in guys that hadn’t really proven themselves, like me, that they thought would fit culturally,” he noted.

Harris believes that the culture of the Nets organization is a big part of the development success that the Nets have in finding and pushing players who wanted a second chance like him and Spencer Dinwiddie.

“Obviously I think it worked out for both of us, but especially for me, because otherwise I don’t know what my chances would have been in terms of landing with another team,” Harris admitted.

“Everybody has a different path of figuring it out. All the guys that are capable of making and playing in this league, I think they do. But a lot of it is just getting the opportunity, so I was lucky that way where Kenny and Sean, the emphasis they put on bringing in guys that they thought would fit the cultural model. Taking a chance on me and some other guys early on. I’m definitely lucky in that regard, but I think it’s certainly been a mutually beneficial thing.”

He noted as well the culture has helped the team adapt to the new situations, new players while still holding up standards.

“So even though players come and go, trainers come and go, everybody that is brought in, there’s still sort of the same mold and there are still enough pieces left around from the very beginning where that stuff is so solid, the foundation is so solid that people seamlessly adjust when they come in.

“I think you’ve seen it year after year where we’ve brought in D’Lo, Ed Davis, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, players that weren’t here from the very beginning but they were able to seamlessly adapt, buy in to what was going on and then you see it again now with Kyrie and Kevin, DeAndre, Wilson, Garrett. It takes a little bit of time obviously, but it is sort of a seamless transition.

“I think at the end of the day it’s because Kenny and Sean, they don’t take chances on guys that might have questionable character. It’s always, all right, this guy, they’ll fit, they’ll buy in, and you see that year in and year out since you’ve been here,”

Just this week, Harris told Kristian Winfield of the Daily News how Kevin Durant respected the culture this season. Even though he was never going to play, he’s stayed around the team.

“He’s in here every single day, doing his rehab and it seems like everything is going really well,” Harris said on Tuesday. “He seems to be moving well, but I think a lot of it is a credit to him and being consistent being in here. It’s just one of those things where he could probably do his rehab wherever he wants. But he’s here with our staff and he’s been super diligent and disciplined with it.”

And he adds that the culture has other positive aspects, like an ability to integrate not just players and staff, but management and even ownership. Players like stability.

“I feel like this is a pretty stable place where there’s just good synergy from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff, where everybody seems to be in line and Sean trusts Kenny, Joe (Tsai) trusts Sean, Joe (Tsai) trusts Kenny.”

That empowers everyone, he thinks.

“It’s a good sort of relationship all the way around and it allows Kenny to be himself. He coaches tough, brings out the best in everybody. I’ve benefited a lot from it. I feel like I’ve improved a lot every year that I’ve been here. A lot of that is because of Kenny, what he does from a player development standpoint, how he empowers us to play with confidence, to be aggressive, to be the best players or the best versions of yourself on the court. At the end of the day, that’s all that you hope for from a coach.”

Or a culture.