Utah Jazz: Team defends Harris amid trade rumor speculation
SALT LAKE CITY — Devin Harris was sent home from practice Friday morning with the stomach flu.
Because of the ailment, the Utah Jazz point guard avoided answering questions about rumors regarding him being on the trading block.
Given ample opportunity to assess Harris' season and the former All-Star's struggles, his coach and teammates acted like most people would probably hope their close ones would in a similar situation.
The Jazz family — as center Al Jefferson called it — defended Harris to the hilt.
"He's fighting his way through it — some good games, some not-so-good games," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Like everybody, you're going to go through some ups and downs in this league, and he has to continue to work."
Corbin continues to express his confidence in Harris.
The second-year coach likes that he's been pushing the ball more lately, but wants his starter to be "more comfortable" and build on what he's learned and done. He admitted the Jazz offense became "stagnant" in the final three minutes of Utah's 94-91 loss to Dallas on Thursday after Harris was reinserted for Watson, but Corbin blamed the five guys on the court — not just the point guard.
And nobody was thrilled to deal with trade rumor talk.
"The locker room and the practice court, this is supposed to be a safe haven," Jazz shooting guard Raja Bell said. "After you (media) guys leave, no disrespect intended, we don't want to deal with that BS anymore. We're here to work. We're here to get better. Dev's a big part of what we do."
But there's no question Harris has struggled off and on this season.
And he did so on a big stage Thursday night.
During the TNT-televised game, Harris went 0-for-7 and scored one point with two assists in the Jazz's 94-91 loss to his old team, Dallas.
Harris' airball 3-point attempt in the waning moments could've trimmed a Dallas lead to one with about 20 seconds left, but it missed so badly it looked like he'd hucked up a medicine ball.
Being sick wasn't used as an excuse, but that could explain away this particular rough outing.
Still, Harris has shot 35 percent on the season — and 31.8 percent from 3-point range. Known as a shoot-first point guard, Harris is only averaging 8.1 points in 25-1/2 minutes.
"We play a lot of games, you're going to have a lot of bad ones. Unfortunately, he had one (Thursday) night," Jefferson said. "Devin is a professional. He's been around a long time. He's a veteran. He knows games like that happen. I'm pretty sure he's going to bounce back and be ready to go (tonight)."
Technically, Harris will be a game-time decision for the match-up with Minnesota and vibrant Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio.
The Jazz, off to a surprising 9-5 start with Harris in the starting lineup, only hope the eight-year pro bounces back upon his return.
The 28-year-old has only averaged 4.6 assists — second to reserve Earl Watson 's 4.7 — and the Jazz offense hasn't always been smooth or efficient with him at the helm.
Understandably, that was the case at the end of last season, but it's continued through the beginning of the 2011-12 campaign. He's played well in stints — including stellar 19-point games vs. Philly and New Orleans and solid outings against the Clippers (13 points) and Denver (10 points, seven assists).
But Harris has become a lightning rod for fan derision.
He's dishing out less than half as many assists as Jazzland is used to seeing from premier playmakers John Stockton and Deron Williams.
And he doesn't always have the spunk, occasional flair or visible leadership displayed by his backup (Watson), either.
On top of that, ESPN's Marc Stein reported that his "reliable rumblings" indicate the Jazz are offering Harris up on the trade market.
"Not exactly leaping onto a limb to suggest Harris' TNT performance against his old friends from Dallas won't have phones buzzing in the SLC," Stein tweeted. "Yet I'm told Jazz will keep shopping him and they'll eventually find taker for Devin. PG is only 28 and has just one year left at $8.5M."
Sports Illustrated's Zach Lowe listed Harris among the NBA's underperforming players, writing, "Harris is just lost in Utah, reduced to managing a post-heavy offense that demands floor spacing he cannot provide."
Earlier this week, though, Harris seemed to be on the verge of breaking through and commended Jazz team chemistry.
"We're building a team camaraderie," he said.
While his team sticks together — including with Harris — some outsiders are clamoring for Watson to be inserted into the starting lineup to see what he can do with the first five instead of primarily with the young guns off the bench.
Watson didn't try to take over the starting position last season when Harris was traded to the Jazz as part of the Deron Williams deal, and he isn't going down that road now.
Like the rest of the Jazz family, Watson has Harris' back.
"I don't think no one takes losing OK. Dev wants to win. He wants to contribute on a big level and we've just got to support him," the 10-year veteran Watson said. "Everyone's path is different. We're all trying to get to the same destination. We're all together as a unit, so we have to support each other no matter what."
Even so, the Jazz own a valuable $10.8 million trade exception, and they have two steady experienced points on their roster behind Harris. Having a capable guy like Jamaal Tinsley on the bench seems to give Utah a decent No. 2 option should Harris be dealt. Tinsley has played sparingly this season after being out of the NBA last year.
Neither Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor nor Harris' agent were able to be reached for comment.
As for comparisons to gaudy assist numbers put up by Stockton and Williams, Corbin said things have changed somewhat. The Jazz swing the ball around with their other backcourt guys more (Gordon Hayward, for instance, averages 3.1 assists), so he doesn't view it as a big deal if Harris isn't averaging double-digit dimes.
"He won't dominate the ball as much," Corbin said. "We've got different guys in different spots. Our perimeter guys and our twos and threes are handling the ball some, so the pass that leads to the score is not necessarily always on the point guard."
Harris' teammates understand that, too.
"We play a style of ball that's kind of a throwback," Bell said. "We do a lot of stuff inside-out, and for guards like Dev who are used to having the ball and used to having a lot of touches and opportunities, it can be hard to find your way within that."
Bell's advice for his backcourt buddy:
"I just tell him to stay aggressive, and when his opportunities are there, take them and try to make the most of them, try to find ways to get involved in transition. You've got to keep pressing. You've got to keep looking for it."
In the meantime, Harris' locker room family will continue looking after him.
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