In the summer of 2020, Mike James signed a three-year contract extension with CSKA Moscow, making him one of the highest-paid players in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague competition. James was arguably one of the best players in Europe in the 2019-20 season, averaging 21.1 points per game on 45.6% shooting from inside the arc, and 42.0% from the three-point line.
The 2020-21 season started off perfectly for James and CSKA Moscow. His team was the No. 1 seed in the EuroLeague, and he was making a run at the MVP award. A series of run-ins, however, with coach Dimitris Itoudis in February and March changed James’ plans for the rest of the season. In late March, Itoudis indefinitely suspended James, and he returned to the States, where he would pursue an NBA return.
With no agency representing him in the States, James turned to his close friend, Mo Smith, who is involved in sports management and has connections around the NBA. Once James returned back home and CSKA released him, Denver’s pro personnel scout, Joe Connely, reached out to Mo Smith, expressing interest in James. “Denver wanted him [James]. Joe Connely was calling me, trying to get it done,” Smith tells Eurohoops.
At the same time, however, Brooklyn was also an option for James. Smith was on the phone with Brooklyn’s director of player personnel, and former CSKA Moscow player, JR Holden. “Mike didn’t have an agent,” he says. “I was acting as his agent.” Eventually, JR Holden with the help of Smith’s close friend, Mike Martin, got Mo Smith on the phone with Brooklyn’s general manager, Sean Marks, regarding a potential Mike James deal. Due to the fact that James didn’t have an agent, the deal had to get done through the NBPA. And so it did.
In a matter of hours, James had arrived in Brooklyn and was ready to sign his first 10-day contract with the Nets. “He would’ve been in Denver if it wasn’t for the Nets coming strong,” explains Smith.
What’s also interesting to add is the fact that Kevin Durant played a significant role in getting Mike James to Brooklyn. Durant’s brother, Tony is the business partner of Mo Smith and a close friend of Mike James, and so he wanted to see James in Brooklyn alongside his brother, Kevin. According to Smith, KD told the Nets front office that “if we got a chance at getting Mike James, let’s get him.”
James signed two 10-day contracts with Brooklyn, before landing a guaranteed contract until the end of the season and having the chance not just to return to the NBA, but to also make a run for the title.