Should the Nets Build Around Devin Harris?

Devin Harris has proven a lot over the past two months. After an inconsistent first-half that had me questioning whether or not his breakout 2008-09 campaign was a fluke, he’s seemingly gotten the wheels back on track, averaging 20.3 points and 9.1 assists in February, and 20.9 points and 6 assists (and 45 percent shooting) in March. However, I still have major, major doubts that Devo is the kind of player this organization needs to be building around for the future. Because regardless of his talent level, he just cannot be counted on to play enough to be a building block.

I’m in no way suggesting that Harris is milking his latest injury, but there becomes a point where a player transcends bad luck with injuries and just becomes injury prone. This past week, I believe Harris passed that mark. With his team challenging the 72-73 Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record ever, Harris missed the past two games with an upper respiratory infection.  There’s no question that the Nets would have had a better chance of pulling out one of those games if Harris suited up. I think the idea that some fans were perpetuating earlier this season that the Nets are a better team without Harris should be put to rest after Tuesday and Wednesday night’s losses to the Hawks and Sixers. In those two games, the Nets looked lost on defense and listless on offense. Outside of the occasional drive from Terrence Williams, no one was attacking the basket, and the team’s outside shooters, Courtney Lee and Jarvis Hayes, looked like they were struggling because there was nobody on the court who could pull defenders into the basket area.

What is frustrating as a fan is that Wednesday’s game, especially, against the Sixers looked like a great chance to secure win number eight, and the Nets came up lame in large part because their star player missed his 18th game of the season.  If this was an isolated incident for Harris, it would be easier to overlook, but it’s not. He missed 13 games last year, including a number of games down the stretch when the team still had an outside shot to make the playoffs, and he missed 18 games the year before when he was traded from Dallas to New Jersey.  What’s most concerning is the kinds of injuries have ranged from wrists to hamstrings to elbows to bacterial infections. If there’s a body part, inside or out, Harris will probably find a way to injure it.

Yes, there are other point guards who have a penchant for getting injured. Chris Paul has only played in 38 of his team’s games this season, and Dwyane Wade was only able to suit for about 50 games each in the 05-06 and 06-07 seasons, but both have also demonstrated some durability in recent seasons (Wade played in 79 games last season and has only missed 4 this season. Paul played in 78 and 80 games the past two seasons before this year). Also, both are such transcendent players that their respective teams are willing to wait out their injuries to build around them. Harris is still too inconsistent to earn that benefit of the doubt.

It’s worth bringing all of this up now because as the nation fixes its eyes to March Madness over the next few weeks, there are going to be more and more basketball fans who will become enthralled with University of Kentucky PG John Wall, who despite the recent surge of Evan Turner love, is the prospective no. 1 pick in the draft. And a guy who knows point guards, Magic Johnson, recently said if the Nets got the pick and took Wall, he’s the guy you hand the keys to the car to, not Devin Harris. Given the events of this past week, I’m finding it harder to argue with that logic. Harris is a talented player, and you certainly don’t want to lose him for a song – if he becomes trade bait this summer he has to bring back another building block for a move to be considered, not more expiring contracts. But Harris is also unreliable, and you cannot build around the unreliable.