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Utah Jazz's Devin Harris searching for comfort zone in Salt Lake City

Published December 26, 2011 8:59 pm

NBA • Guard still trying to find rhythm, role with Jazz.
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Devin Harris has been a member of the Jazz for 10 months.

He still hasn't found his comfort zone.

Limited to just 17 regular season and two preseason contests due to everything from the NBA lockout to nagging injuries, the seven-year veteran continues to search for a groove in Salt Lake City.

The lack of rhythm isn't intentional. Harris joined the Jazz on Feb. 23 with high expectations, saying "playoffs" immediately came to mind after being rescued from New Jersey via the Deron Williams trade.

Utah bottomed out and failed to make the postseason, though, and the No. 5 overall selection of the 2004 NBA Draft had little time to click with his new teammates during an uneven run at the end of the 2010-11 season.

Harris cleared his mind last summer, healed his body and entered training camp with renewed focus. But there was little clarity for him or the Jazz during an abbreviated preseason. Now, no one better represents the uncertainty surrounding Utah during the 2011-12 campaign than the former All-Star guard, who averaged career highs in points (21.3), rebounds (3.3) and minutes (36.1) for the Nets just three seasons ago.

As Utah struggles to enter a new era, Harris is stuck at the crossroads. He's an intelligent, athletic combo guard who's often shoot-first instead of pass-focused. He's one-third of the Jazz's core veteran trio, but he's still trying to make it work with center Al Jefferson and didn't play with Paul Millsap during the preseason. And while the Jazz search for a team captain and locker-room leader, Harris is still adapting to a foreign environment and an undetermined role on a rebuilding team.

Comparing his situation with the Jazz to previous four-year runs in Dallas and New Jersey, Harris simply said, "This is new."

A condensed training camp and abbreviated preseason only hindered his progress. As did coach Tyrone Corbin's decision to alter Utah's practice lineups and in-game rotations during exhibition play. The proof was in the performance: The Jazz's offense was stuck in neutral until backup Earl Watson, an 11-year veteran, took over the stick and increased the tempo.

Ask Harris about the state of the Jazz and his place in Utah's system, and he acknowledges everything that matters is completely unsettled. The more he absorbs, the better he becomes. Continuity is essential. As is time, which will be in short supply once Utah's lockout-shortened season starts Dec. 27 and the team plays 66 games in 122 days.

"Chemistry — which takes time to build — and knowing the strengths of the players is still a work in progress," Harris said.

The former Wisconsin standout said in-game reads, reacting to how an opposing defense is attacking and executing offensive sets all remain on the agenda. As does strengthening his on-the-court relationship with Utah center Al Jefferson, who led the post-Williams Jazz last season in average points and minutes.

Harris knows Jefferson has a sweet spot. But attempts to feed Big Al in the low post during the preseason, in addition to setting up a rotating array of shooting guards and small forwards, weren't exactly acts of basketball beauty.

"It's just learning where he likes to get the ball and how to get him as many touches as we can where he feels comfortable," Harris said.

The veteran point guard recently received a vote of confidence, though, when former Mavericks teammate Josh Howard was added to the roster.

Jefferson also stood behind Harris. Big Al acknowledged he's more of a combo guard than a true point. But Jefferson said he's played with only three top-tier 1s in his career: Gary Payton, Williams and Harris.

"Devin has just got to find his game with this offense and with the new team," Jefferson said. "I think he can be just as good as D-Will with this offense or even better."


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Devin Harris' production

2011-12 preseason

FG 3pt FT Reb Ast TO +/- Pts Min

8-16 2-6 2-2 4 3 7 -22 20 37

2010-11 with Jazz (17 games)

• 15.8 pts, 5.4 ast, 2.4 reb, 0.8 stl, 2.9 tos, 31.2 min

Career (7 seasons)

• 13.3 pts, 5.0 ast, 2.5 reb, 1.2 stl, 2.2 tos, 28.2 min






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