DENVER | Gary Harris has raised his game since his rookie season. The next step is raising his voice.
The Denver Nuggets want the shooting guard to be more of a vocal leader on the court and in the locker room, especially now that he’s going to be around for a while. Two people with knowledge of the deal tell The Associated Press that Harris has agreed to an $84 million, four-year contract extension with Denver that will begin for the 2018-19 season.
The people spoke Sunday on condition of anonymity because the team had not disclosed the deal. ESPN first reported the agreement. The deal guarantees $74 million with an additional $10 million available through bonuses.
Denver Nuggets' Gary Harris, right, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Denver Nuggets' Gary Harris falls on the floor during the first half of a pre-season NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris, left, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers center Ivica Zubac, of Croatia, defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
“His biggest area of growth is not being afraid to be a leader,” coach Michael Malone recently said at media day. “He has a tremendous amount of respect within our locker room among his peers. He has to be more vocal and demanding of himself and his teammates.”
The 23-year-old Harris is coming off a season in which he averaged 14.9 points and 2.9 assists for a Nuggets team that narrowly missed the playoffs. He’s an integral part of the Nuggets’ plans moving forward, along with center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray.
Harris found himself in another role over the summer: salesman. He certainly made quite a pitch, too, as he helped land the services of All-Star free agent Paul Millsap, who signed a three-year, $90 million deal.
“Gary is emblematic of everything we want to be — a guy that came here, has gotten better each year and has bought in to what (Malone) and his staff are preaching,” Tim Connelly, the president of basketball operations, recently said. “He’s looking forward to being here a long time. If we can have more guys like Gary Harris, we’re going to have a heck of a time and win a lot of games in the coming years.”
Harris was taken with the 19th overall pick in 2014 out of Michigan State. He had a lackluster rookie season, but has steadily improved ever since. He hit 42 percent of his 3-pointers last season.
On defense, he’s frequently asked to cover the opposing team’s top perimeter threat.
Stepping up in that area remains a focus. Same with finding his voice.
“It’s good for me to step up the leadership role — me and Nikola, the young leaders of this squad,” Harris said. “It’s time for us to voice our leadership.
“But it’s easy with the team we have. We’re a competitive group of guys. Our goal is to win. So if someone is doing something that’s affecting that goal, it’s up to us to say something. … I would expect them to say something to me, if I’m slacking or my head isn’t into it. It’s about holding each other accountable.”
Malone recently set up a committee that he could turn to when issues surface on or away from the court. It includes Millsap, Jameer Nelson, Jokic and Harris.
Harris has become a model player for the Nuggets — a uniform model, that is. He recently showed off the new jersey featuring a darker shade of blue.
New look, higher expectations in the competitive Western Conference.
“The type of competition we have every day, we can’t help but get better,” Harris said. “It’s going to be a tough Western Conference, but we’re going to be ready for it.”
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.