It was an eventful Friday for Mike James. After a full week of speculation, he signed a 10-day contract with the Nets early in the day and played later that night ... not meeting his head coach till just before game time.
He was the new kid on the block, coming over from Russia after an MVP caliber season with CSKA Moscow that ended last month. The former EuroLeague star said he arrived at the Barclays Center early to take in his new home arena. From the new scenery to building relationships with his new teammates, it was a lot to take in for the 30-year-old, who admitted he got lost a couple of times in the long white hallways.
“It was a lot, to be honest. It’s kind of like that when you are at a new place. I just try to emphasize that I don’t remember your name, don’t hold me accountable for it,” James joked. “Remind me maybe twice, three times. Besides that, it was tough. It’s kind of like a maze back here. I kept getting lost where I was going, but I got here real early so I kind of walked around a little bit.”
James also spoke about his first interaction between him and Steve Nash. The 30-year-old was getting warmed up with the “stay ready group” when Nash introduced himself, then spoke to his newest backcourt asset about what he’d like to see out of him later that night.
“We were playing before, three-on-three, with the stay-ready group trying to make sure you’re warm. He walked in and he really didn’t have to introduce himself but, introduced himself. Me as well and told me what he wanted from me today. Basically, [he] told me not to sweat it too much, be aggressive, push the pace, and try to help out,” James said.
Ironically, James wasn’t the biggest fan of his new head coach growing up a point guard. The 6’1” guard admitted he was more attracted to flashy players than his steady new head coach.
Yes, he may have been MVP twice, an all-star eight times, but he was never viewed through that NBA prism of athleticism. Instead, he was seen as skilled, crafty, hard-working, and known for his impeccable basketball IQ, ending his 18-year career as one of the best point guards to ever dribble a basketball in the league. As the 30-year-old got older and began to work on his own basketball IQ and skills that he appreciated Nash.
“To be honest, I didn’t appreciate him until I got older. When he was really playing well, I don’t think I really appreciated him as I do now, watching back,” James said. “When you get older and you look for different things, Steve wasn’t as a flashy guy that I would’ve liked when I was younger.
“Passing wise, he probably was, but everything else, he got to his spots, made his shots, made the right reads. When you’re younger, you don’t pay attention to that stuff. You pay attention to other things. I don’t think I appreciated him as I do now. Now, it’s just the pace he plays with, how he reads the game, and made other people on his team in the right spots and made them better.”
Although starting a new chapter and ready to take on his fresh start, James wasn’t walking into completely unknown territory. Outside of 36 games of NBA experience, there are quite a number of familiar faces he reunited with in Brooklyn.
Starting with coaches, James has a lengthy relationship with Ime Udoka, the Nets defensive-minded assistant. Udoka is also a native of Portland and the two have known each other for a while with their relationship originating in Oregon.
“Me and Ime Udoka are from the same city. I’ve known him for maybe like 16 years, something like that,” James said.
Outside of Udoka, James has known Kevin Durant for five years. Their history stems from his relationship with Durant’s older brother, Tony. He’s known Tony for a while and was introduced to the Nets superstar through his brother (making him an FOT?). When James wasn’t on the court, he was sitting next to Durant on the bench.
“Obviously when you know someone's brother, you meet them as well,” James said.
James played with and against Kyrie Irving and James Harden in open gyms and workouts over the summer in southern California. Overall, James sid he isn’t best friends or have close relationships with any of his new teammates. It comes from the benefits of being a hooper.
“James and Kai a little bit, just being around gyms,” James said. “In the summer, you meet a lot of people playing in open gyms and get workouts in. I wouldn’t say I’m best friends with anybody or really close, but I’ve had interactions with some of them before,” James said.
James, who played in his first NBA game Friday since February of 2018, showed little rust in his return to the states, learning and playing on the fly.
“Just try to get comfortable really. When you go into a new situation, you kind of just want to have a chance to mess and still kind of play a little bit. I felt like my teammates and coaches encouraged me to be aggressive and keep pushing the pace,” James said. “I think I made some good stuff happen and made some bad stuff happen. [I] got to get better for the next game.
The 6’1” guard helped Brooklyn take sole possession of the first seed in the East with eight points on 3-of-8 shooting from the field and 1-of-1 from deep to go with two rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes. Overall, he was a +17 for the game, being on the court when the Nets made their big second quarter run. He played a total of 21 minutes. Not bad for someone who met his coach for the first time in shootaround.
James provided Brooklyn with must-needed ball-handling - a big reason Sean Marks inked the EuroLeague star to a 10-day contract. When asked about having that floor general responsibility in his first game, he pinpointed learning the playbook and upping the pace as the two main challenges.
“I’m a natural point guard. I played point guard just about all my life so, it wasn’t really that. It was more trying to learn plays and move the ball at a faster pace,” James said. “Trying to feel somewhat comfortable in a situation where it’s kind of uncomfortable. You haven’t had any practices and haven’t really had any game time so you got to fill in.”
He began the contest facilitating for his new teammates, helping them get open looks and as the game progressed, he created shot opportunities for himself and found a rhythm.
He also did this...
YESSIR @TheNatural_05 pic.twitter.com/WPCeB3EmXZ— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) April 24, 2021
Most notably, James played with pace — an attribute that was a catalyst to the Nets fast-break onslaught (32 points). Nash, he said, spoke to him about while getting reps with the stay-ready group.
“I thought he did great. It’s not an easy position to come in and meet your teammates for the first time and play in an NBA game on national TV,” Nash said. ”He’s been in the league before and has had a terrific season in Europe, so we know he’s a talented player. I was really impressed by his pace, his ability to draw and kick, make the offense run faster and create openings for his teammates.”
In the fourth quarter, James got the extra pass, maneuvered to the weak side and hit a nifty high-bank 11-footer falling away off his left foot, resulting in Irving to jump out of his seat and walk to the sidelines waving his towel in excitement.
“You saw my reactions on the sidelines. I was really impressed. We just want him to fill in as best as he can and feel comfortable,” Irving said. “Welcome him with open arms. We got a few games in the next few days so, just want to get him well-acclimated and going out there and having fun.”
MIKE JAMES!@TheNatural_05 | #BrooklynTogether pic.twitter.com/T1ajgQ0Ril— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) April 24, 2021
Irving certainly wasn’t the only Net to provide James with praise. Bruce Brown, who has shined as a cornerstone player in the Nets stay-ready unit, told him to “keep going” once James found a rhythm.
“We just welcomed him. A new brother to our brotherhood and we told him to go out there and play,” Brown said. “With the second unit, we don’t care who scores. We go out there. We run, do what we got to do. We told him to get into a rhythm. He hit a few shots and told him to keep going.”
James was also asked about why it took a while to get his next NBA opportunity. The 6’1” guard provided an interesting perspective, noting he wasn’t sure he’d ever return to “The L.”
James admitted he was getting paid well overseas, which he was. James signed a three-year deal with CSKA last June that paid him $2.5 million in 2020-21, making him the fourth-highest player in Europe. Outside of money, James was clearly a household name and a star among hoops fans in Europe. Looking ahead, James spoke about he wants less of a load and he believes he can shine in a decreased role in the states.
“I really didn’t know if I wanted to play in the NBA again. I was getting paid well. I like playing a lot and having a star role,” James said. “As you get older, I don’t want to have that much responsibility on my shoulder every night. Playing 21 minutes a night is better for me and not being as much as a focal point. I feel like I can shine in that if I got the opportunity.”
While James was making very good money at least by European basketball standards and was one of Euroleague’s top players, having averaged 19.3 points and 4.7 assists in 27 games this season, controversy hovered above his head. He tried to clear that up.
He was suspended by CSKA at the end of March after an altercation with the team’s head coach, Dimitris Itoudis. It was his second suspension. James became available after a dramatic exit from CSKA Moscow.
“With [Dimitris] Itoudis, some things happened in my personal life. I felt like stuff didn’t go as I thought and somebody should handle my situations. We had a little clash there. Not really as a basketball player did I have a clash with Itoudis. As two men, we had clashed. Not really on the basketball courts,” James said. “That’s kind of what happened.”
Now a Net on a 10-day contract, James has a year of service and a 10-day contract is a pro-rated vets minimum deal based on years of service. The Nets can sign him to two 10-days, taking him nearly up to the end of the season on May 16.
For him to be eligible for the post-season, Brooklyn has to convert James to either a standard deal or a two-way sometime between now and May 19 when the playoffs begin.
Considering how well he did Friday under some odd circumstances, even for this team, James does have a shot. Beyond that, who knows. His arrangement with CSKA will require him to return to Moscow next season and the season after that. Still, as his career and the Nets season has proven, things change.
- Mike James says his clash with Itoudis wasn’t as a basketball player, but as “an individual” - Dionysis Aravantinos - Sportando
- Mike James: I had a clash with Itoudis as an individual, not as a basketball player - Eurohoops
- Kyrie Irving, Steve Nash impressed by Mike James’ Nets debut - Antonis Stroggylakis - Eurohoops
- Nets Notes: Mike James debuts for Brooklyn - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets
- LU alum Mike James gives Brooklyn boost off the bench in debut - Matt Faye - Beaumont Enterprise