- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Nets backup power forward Kris Humphries is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but head coach Avery Johnson has told Humphries that he wants him to be part of the franchise's future.
"We want Humphries back," Johnson said Monday during his pre-game availability with the media prior to his team's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. "With what the Nets are all about and where we're going, Humphries is our kind of player. We've told him that. I've told him 'We'd love to have you a part of our program as we move forward.'"
Humphries, who will make $3.2 million in 2010-11 after picking up his player option prior to the start of the season, has become a revelation for the Nets. The 25-year-old began the year behind veteran Troy Murphy and rookie Derrick Favors on the depth chart, but an injury to Murphy forced Humphries into the starting lineup on Nov. 10, and he's flourished ever since.
Although he's since lost his starting spot with the Nets committed to developing Favors, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Humphries continues to give the Nets consistent energy and effort off the bench. In 44 games, the seven-year veteran is averaging 8.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in 25.5 minutes. He currently ranks 29th in the league with 13 double-doubles.
"That's really great to hear," said Humphries, who is currently dating reality television star Kim Kardashian. "We've talked a little bit off and on. I think that the conversation came up right before they started starting Favors [on Jan. 5] and stuff. It just kind of showed me that [Avery's] making some different moves, but I'm still part of the big picture, so that feels good. It would be nice [to stay]. I enjoy the people around here."
Even though talks have been ongoing, Humphries said the team has not yet offered him a contract extension. He will most certainly be due a raise, possibly similar to the 5-year, $35 million contract the Nets gave free agent small forward Travis Outlaw during the offseason.
"Right now, it's just play basketball," said Humphries, who noted that the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement could have an impact as to if and when his deal gets done. "And when the time comes, that's when you deal with that."
Humphries said that he'd be comfortable continuing in his current reserve role, as long as the team continues to improve.
"It's easier to play a role the more and more games you win," Humphries said. "You look at guys that play certain roles on championship-caliber teams and it's easier for them because you're doing this and you're winning games."
Humphries said he's developed a greater knowledge of the game during his time playing for Johnson.
"It's funny," Humphries said. "I think even though our record might not reflect it, I've learned a lot so far about basketball and different things offensively and defensively from Avery and our coaching staff. I think that I've gotten better here. It would be nice to continue to really win games and make a push for the playoffs as we move toward Brooklyn and all that."
Prior to the start of the season, Humphries could have opted out of his contract and looked to sign elsewhere. At the time, Nets' officials were somewhat hoping he would so they'd have enough cap space to sign two maximum-salary free agents. But Humphries didn't, and the Nets are better off because of it.
"Obviously when you're trying to make a decision like that, a lot of times it's based off money, where you think the team's headed, stuff like that," Humphries said. "I just felt like it would be a good thing to be a part of here. It's just kind of one of those things where the grass isn't always greener so you have to go with your gut sometimes."
Humphries said the reason he's been able to become one of the NBA's most-improved players is because he's been given consistent playing time, something he never got playing behind Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas and Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani in Toronto.
"I may not be starting, but I'm playing minutes every night," Humphries said. "A lot of things factor into that. The NBA is a tough place if you're in one moment, out the next moment and you don't know if you're going to play in a game or not. Guys who don't play every night, that's one of the toughest things to do in the league."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.
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