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How key connections, including KD’s brother, helped steer Mike James to Brooklyn

Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz v CSKA Moscow - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Photo by Frank Lovicario/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Mike James has long been a European bucket. In the last three years, he’s scored 1,700 points, more than any other Euroleague player. And this season, before he left CSKA Moscow, he was one of only three players in Europe who put up more than three 30-point games, one in the Russian League, three in the Euroleague.

So when he became available at the end of March following a suspension by CSKA, there was interest from the NBA which ultimately led to him signing two 10-days and then a standard NBA contract Thursday. But, as they say in Russia, it was complicated.

Dionysis Aravantinos of Eurohoops reveals Frday just how the move from Moscow to Brooklyn came together, how the Nets faced competition from the Nuggets ... and how Tony Durant, Kevin’s older brother, played a key role along with the Nets director of player personnel, a CSKA alumnus.

The big issue that James and the Nets had to overcome, Aravantinos writes, was that James didn’t have an NBA-certified agent, only a European agent. In effect, he had no one who could negotiate a deal for him.

With no agency representing him in the States, James turned to his close friend, Mo Smith, who is involved in sports management and has connections around the NBA. Once James returned back home and CSKA released him, Denver’s pro personnel scout, Joe Connely, reached out to Mo Smith, expressing interest in James. “Denver wanted him [James]. Joe Connely was calling me, trying to get it done,” Smith tells Eurohoops.

But the Nets had a couple of advantages, one Tony Durant, who worked with Smith. The other was Jon Robert Holden, the Nets director of player personnel, aka chief scout, who won 11 championships with CSKA, nine Russian League titles and two Euroleague Championships. (He also has Russian citizenship which was granted him by Vladimir Putin prior to the 2007 FIBA European championships. It proved to be a smart move: Holden won it all for Team Russia that year with a dagger in the last two seconds against Spain.)

Aravantinos explains what happened next...

Brooklyn was also an option for James. Smith was on the phone with Brooklyn’s director of player personnel, and former CSKA Moscow player, JR Holden. “Mike didn’t have an agent,” he says. “I was acting as his agent.” Eventually, JR Holden with the help of Smith’s close friend, Mike Martin, got Mo Smith on the phone with Brooklyn’s general manager, Sean Marks, regarding a potential Mike James deal. Due to the fact that James didn’t have an agent, the deal had to get done through the NBPA. And so it did.

Sealing the deal was the F.O.K. (Friend of Kevin) or in this case F.O.T (Friend of Tony) connection, says Aravantinos.

Durant’s brother, Tony is the business partner of Mo Smith and a close friend of Mike James, and so he wanted to see James in Brooklyn alongside his brother, Kevin. According to Smith, KD told the Nets front office that “if we got a chance at getting Mike James, let’s get him.”

At the end of the day, Smith told Eurohoops, “He would’ve been in Denver if it wasn’t for the Nets coming strong.”

Now, James has a contract with the Nets for the last two games of the regular season and the playoffs, however long that lasts. He reportedly will return to CSKA this summer although his coach, Demitris Itoudis, keeps dissing him. His NBA coach has no such issues, however. He’s said he “loves” James.

“It’s a big ask to play on a different team in a different country, league, for a different coach, different rules, to come back here and adapt quickly into a team that has big aspirations and clearly has some superstars and a hierarchy already set,” said Steve Nash.

“We love his talent, we love his potential, there’s been some inconsistency in his play, which is really natural, considering all those parameters I expressed. He’s still been really valuable to us, and he’s added a lot to our team. So we understand that it’s not an easy and straightforward situation to jump into and he’s done really well.”

James is happy the way things worked out and hopes he can show the scoring skills that made him so popular in the first place.

“I think just cause my role’s a little bit different, that’s kind of hurt me scoring wise, but I don’t really know how to explain it,” James told reporters recently. “I think just because we have so many different scorers, it’s made me a little tentative at times, which is probably horrible to be, but you know, it’s a work in progress. I think the more I play and the more comfortable I get out there I’ll play better. It’s not like I’m playing bad, I just can’t make a shot in general.”

Of course, Tomas Satoransky might disagree after this by James...

And yes, Satoransky is now out with an ankle injury.

James may not get minutes with James Harden and Kyrie Irving back — and shortened playoff rotations, but after all was said and done, he’s available.