After spending last season in Moscow, playing for CSKA in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague competition and the VTB League, Mike James decided to sign a three-year extension and stay in Russia until the end of the 2022-23 season. James, 30 has been one of the best players in Europe during the last couple of years, ranking No. 3 in our Top-100 EuroLeague players list. He had a brief stint in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Pelicans in 2017-18, but he decided to come back and continue his career in Europe.
Despite having interest from multiple NBA teams, he says that the NBA is no longer on his bucket list. James also discussed the reasons he signed an extension with CSKA, the team goals for this year, and he picked his best EuroLeague starting five.
EuroLeague is officially back and you’ve played in all games. How different has this season been so far?
Mike James: It’s not that much different, to be honest. It’s just no fans. That’s just the only thing that changed. Everything else is pretty much the same. Some players are going in and out of the lineup, but that’s like injuries every other season. It’s not a lot of change.
Looking at the standings and the first games of the season, we have seen many upsets. Would you say that this will keep occurring throughout the year and we could potentially see an underdog type team win it all, due to the coronavirus situation?
MJ: I don’t know. Since we play so many games, it’s harder for that to happen. Eventually, the teams that are the best teams will always be in the playoffs. Similar to what happened last year, and how Fenerbahce started the season really bad and since they were really talented, they got back to the playoff picture. It’s hard to say.
After spending one year with CSKA Moscow, you decided to sign a three-year extension with the team. What were the reasons you signed that contract extension?
MJ: I enjoy it here. Basketball-wise is perfect for me. Coach Itoudis has a good way of teaching and being relatable at the same time, as well as holding you accountable. It’s something new. I enjoy the freedom he gives you to make mistakes and to be yourself on the court. That were the main reasons for me staying here.
What did you make of the roster that the front office was able to put together this past summer?
MJ: We made good signings. Nikola (Milutinov) and Toko (Shengelia) coming in were big for us. Getting a healthy Will (Clyburn) back helps us out a lot. Now that everybody’s back from injuries, I think we’re going to start coming into our own.
What are your current goals you have set for this season as a team? Do you guys talk about reaching the Final Four?
MJ: Before the start of the season, that was our main talk. During the season, however, you just kind of focus on the next game. When the time comes, that’s when we’ll talk about it. That’s on everybody’s mind, but we got to take care of business first now.
Individually, have you set any personal goals this season?
MJ: No, not really. Individually, I’ve accomplished pretty much everything. I don’t really care.
MJ: No, I was already there. I don’t care no more.
What went wrong in your time with the Suns? I’m asking cause when Devin Booker was sidelined due to injury, you were proving why you belonged in the league.
MJ: No idea. Never really got an answer.
Did you turn down any guaranteed NBA offers to sign that contract extension with CSKA Moscow?
MJ: Talks didn’t really get far enough for me to turn down offers. I definitely had a lot of interest from multiple teams. But, you know how cap space works. It saves fish for last. There was interest, I didn’t really turn down a concrete offer, but if I would’ve waited, I probably would’ve gotten multiple offers.
EuroLeague’s best starting five (excluding yourself & teammates)
PG: Facundo Campazzo
SG: Shane Larkin
SF: Ioannis Papapetrou
PF: Nikola Mirotic
C: Brandon Davies