After a solid performance of 11 points, eight assists and a season-high seven rebounds that included an extended run off the bench, Mike James and the Nets have a decision to make and soon on his future with the playoffs looming.
James second 10-day contract runs out after tonight’s game and if Brooklyn wants the former EuroLeague star to remain onboard for the postseason, they’ll either need to ink him to a standard deal or open up one of their two-way contract slots held by Chris Chiozza — who is out for at least the remainder of the regular season — and Reggie Perry, their 21-year-old rookie big.
“I can’t confirm anything. I would say that the front office will sit with Mike tonight or tomorrow, but we’ve been really happy with Mike. I’d imagine he’ll be with us, but I can’t confirm anything at this point,” said Steve Nash on James’ future. “That decision will be made tonight or tomorrow, but as I said, we’ve been very happy with Mike and what’s he’s brought to the team.”
Throughout the last couple of games with the end of the regular season approaching, Steve Nash and the Nets coaching staff have prioritized handing minutes to players who are solidifying roles and navigating their fit within a healthy roster.
“I think we are just going through a stretch of the season where we have a bunch of healthy bodies back and we’re trying to find minutes for guys we don’t know a lot about,” Nash said Saturday. “It’s been great to give Mike some minutes and a look, see what he brings to the table, offer and see what our options are going forward.”
Brooklyn’s decision to evaluate James’ potential has had Tyler Johnson at the far end of the bench. TJ’s not played in the Nets’ last four contests. Johnson has been out of the rotation before and Nash emphasized his trust in the combo guard and his play, whether that comes in the final three games of the regular season or in the postseason.
“We trust Tyler. We believe in him and he’s an incredibly competitive and hardworking player that is not scared, will step up and make shots, guard, rebound, and do whatever it takes. We trust in Tyler,” Nash said Saturday. “Tyler is a guy that we trust and if it’s tonight or in the playoffs, I have no problem playing him and having him in the rotation. It’s just a matter of what’s needed, warranted, and how many minutes there are to go around.”
When James arrived in Brooklyn, he explained how he believes he can shine in a decreased role to what he was accustomed to playing overseas where he was the top-scoring option who demanded the ball and big minutes. Luckily for James, the backcourt talent the Nets possess complements his fit. He admits takin a back seat to the team’s stars even though his reputation in Europe was a “bucket.”
“I think just because my role is a little bit different, I think that’s kind of hurt me scoring-wise,” said James following the Nets 115-107 victory over the Bulls. “I don’t really how to explain it. I think because we have so many good scorers, it’s made me a bit tentative at times, which is probably horrible to be,
“It’s a work-in-progress. I think the more I play and the more comfortable I get, I’ll play better. It’s not like I’m playing bad. I just can’t make a shot in general, but I made free throws today so it’s better.”
Indeed, his numbers on Monday night were mixed as he filled in for Kyrie Irving after he went down in the third. While he scored 11 points, he shot only 1-of-7 overall and 1-of-4 from three but made all eight of his free throws, handed out seven assists, grabbed six boards and got credited for a steal and a block in 22 minutes. More important, James directed the Nets pace, taking it up a notch.
“Steve just wants me to be aggressive. He just tells me to push the pace and play defense,” “Obviously, Kyrie [Irving] is a point guard. James [Harden] is a point guard, so it’s not a lot of minutes for me to go around,” James said.
“[So},I shouldn’t save any energy when I’m out there. I should give everything I got and hopefully, if I play super well, maybe I’ll play more than 10-15 something like that. That’s what happens when you come to a championship team, especially like I did super late. I’m just happy to be in the rotation right now and be able to play.”
Since his arrival, James has received praise from his new teammates, particularly from Kevin Durant, who knew the 6’1” guard for years through his brother. One player that can relate to James’ transitioning from a role as the top option to role player is Blake Griffin signed around the same time.
“Mike is just a great basketball player. He’s one of those guys that can pick up a ball at any time and fit in a lot of different places just because of his versatility offensively,” said Griffin on James. “He’s also a smaller and strong guard, so he does a good job for us defensively.”
James is averaging 6.6 points, 3.6 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 16.6 minutes per game. After tonight, though, things could change. It looks like Harden will be back maybe even Irving. So his time on court will be reduced dramatically. The Nets do seem to like having him around as insurance, particularly when Nash wants him to push things along.
“I think that’s one of my jobs for sure, coming in and trying to push the pace and trying to get us into the offense quick and quick hitters,” he said. “When we play with pace and we’re unselfish, obviously we’re a talented team, we’re a good shooting team, besides maybe me right now, but you know, I think we play with pace and move the ball pretty good.”