On the first day of free agency, Montrezl Harrell called to say he was on the phone with two key members of the defending NBA champions. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Frank Vogel were buzzing with excitement at the prospect of joining their organization.
The 26-year-old didn’t paint a vivid picture of dealing with the Clippers, the Crosstown rival he played for the past three seasons. When a reporter asked on Monday whether the Clippers had wanted him back at all, he objected.
“Apparently not,” he said, “when I’m on the other side.”
The 6-foot-7 forward is central to one of the most challenging trades of this abbreviated NBA off-season, moving his locker just steps away in Staples Center from the Clippers to the Lakers. After three seasons being one of the faces of the underdog rivals who have traditionally been second fiddle in their own arena and market, Harrell made the surprise swap to an early favorite to repeat for the league title.
The amazing part isn’t so much that Harrell, who won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award last season, left the Clippers after a disappointing second round playoff exit in the bubble. He didn’t play well at Disney World after that a month’s absence in mourning for his grandmother. The coming split was widely predicted, especially in the face of chemical stress which found that Harrell was seemingly struggling with the revision of last year’s roster.
But with a two-year $ 19 million deal with the other LA team, it was clear that some of his former teammates were surprised by the change: Pat Beverley was among those who responded with a first surprise on social media, followed by say he was. happy for Harrell, with whom he has played for the past five seasons (two in Houston).
Harrell praised the Lakers’ chemistry, noting that he was going to play for “a team that wanted me,” which could be interpreted as shots to the organization he had just left. But he added that journeymen like Beverley and Lou Williams can relate to the core.
“They understand and they basically taught me that this is a business no matter what,” he said. “If you’re not one of our best players in the league, who we all know who those players are, everyone is expendable.”
For the Lakers, Harrell could be a shot in the arm. The Lakers bench finished 11th in scoring last year, but the Clippers, led by Harrell’s 18.6 ppg, led the league in points from the bench (50.3 ppg). Depending on how they choose their starting lines, the Lakers appear ready to create a version of the Clippers’ second unit with Harrell and Dennis Schröder, who were the top two bench scorers in the league last season.
But at best, Harrell isn’t just a scorer – he’s an energetic force. His vocal energy and fuss were foundational to his Clippers tenure that elevated him from a throw-in of the Chris Paul trade to a fan favorite. Harrell last season was second in costs (30), third in boxouts (363) and seventh in jump-off points (233).
“It’s all about everything it takes to win, man,” Harrell said. “ I’ve led or tied the league over the years, so I put my body there on the line, so it just shows you, man, what it takes to win. So that’s literally what I see my role is. ”
The Lakers bet Harrell is better than his bubble game: The Clippers were outperformed by 68 points in his 243 playoff minutes, especially in the second round in Denver, which went to seven games. He averaged just 10.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in the postseason (the previous year Harrell averaged 18.9 ppg in a first round against the Golden State Warriors).
Harrell’s agent, Rich Paul, also represents LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Although Harrell said his decision to join the Lakers was personal, he acknowledged that, through off-season events and pickups, the Klutch Sports agency is “like a family.”
It has been speculated that with just 72 days between the end of the finale and the 2020-21 season opener, the Lakers could seek more rest for players like James and Davis. But Harrell said he felt picking those two up would be a team responsibility – not something that landed on his plate in particular.
On Monday afternoon, the Clippers broke through any alleged harsh feelings and released a video featuring Harrell’s highlights and the caption, “Thanks, @MONSTATREZZ.”
It’s still a new split, but although Harrell has changed allegiances, he insisted his approach to the game won’t change.
“After all, basketball is our job,” he said. “When I played for the Clippers, every night I gave it everything I had when I put on my sneakers. And now that I’m here with the Los Angeles Lakers, that’s the same thing I’m going to do here. ”
– LA Clippers (@LAClippers) November 23, 2020