The 2017-18 regular season has been an up-and-down affair for the Portland Trail Blazers. After starting the season in topsy-turvy fashion, embroiled in mediocrity, the Blazers have turned it on in February and March, ascending to the third position in the NBA’s Western Conference.
The journey of Blazers forward Maurice Harkless has mirrored the season. Tabbed as the starter at small forward at the beginning of the year, Harkless lost his top-five position, followed by the rest of his playing time, as the Blazers unraveled around him. Of late he’s been starting and playing marvelously, just like the team.
The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman pegged a watershed moment in Harkless’ campaign, leading to the big turn-around. Oddly enough, the stimulus did not come on the court, but during one of the games when Harkless rode the bench.
When reviewing tape of Portland’s January 16th contest against the Phoenix Suns, Harkless got an uncomfortable view of his own behavior:
Harkless is the first to admit he’s the moodiest player on the team, affable, engaging and hilarious when things are going well but potentially quiet, distant and pouty when times are tough. As the Blazers were plodding along toward mediocrity and he was relegated to the bench unable to help, Harkless found himself in a bad place...
When Shabazz Napier flipped a behind-the-back pass to Al-Farouq Aminu for a three, Harkless’ teammates on the bench hopped up and went ballistic. But he sat solemnly, arms folded, scowl on his face. After CJ McCollum snatched a steal on defense and streaked the other way for a pull-up three in transition, a similar scene unfolded. The Blazers’ bench erupted. Harkless sat motionless. He didn’t even bother standing to participate in timeout huddles.
According to Freeman, Harkless was aghast at the video portrait. He resolved to apologize to coaches and teammates the next day. The result was dramatic.
“They were like, ‘That’s a man move,’” Harkless said, noting the reaction from his teammates. “It was nothing but respect. Everybody was like, ‘I didn’t even notice it. But we appreciate you.’ That’s when things kind of started to turn around. My attitude changed. Positivity brings positivity.”
Freeman’s article includes more backstory, plus quotes from Harkless’ teammates on his importance and the moment he got back on the right track. It’s worth reading.