Did the Clippers want Montrezl Harrell? ‘Apparently not,’ the new Laker says
Montrezl Harrell doesn’t know how good he’s about to have it, a firsthand look at how life can be different in Los Angeles for a Laker — no more fighting for attention in a market that’s purple-and-gold crazy, especially with another championship banner in their possession.
But here he was, Monday afternoon in his first official act, with a fond eye still focused on his past, insinuating a truth that was lost in the buzz of his free-agency flip. Harrell, the reigning sixth man of the year, is a Laker — but only because the Clippers decided not to have him back.
“This is a team that wanted me and the team that was really highly on me,” Harrell said of the Lakers. “I’m honored and thankful for that and blessed to be here.”
Asked specifically if he felt the Clippers wanted him, Harrell was honest.
The Lakers re-signed forward Markieff Morris to a one-year contract at the veteran’s minimum while waiting on a decision by superstar Anthony Davis.
“I mean, that goes without saying — apparently not if I’m on the other side,” Harrell said. “So it is what it is, really.”
It turns out that there was more to Harrell’s signing than it first seemed, when basketball people buzzed at Harrell’s flip in allegiance. The buzz from stealing a valued player from a rival sort of dissipates when you learn there wasn’t much thievery involved.
The Clippers valued Harrell’s scoring, effort and emotion, but after falling short in the playoffs, needs for more floor spacing and defensive versatility were prioritized. The Clippers agreed to a deal with Serge Ibaka to fill Harrell’s spot, signaling that shift in values.
But down the hallway with the Lakers, Harrell’s still in a prime position to continue writing his “underdog” story on L.A.’s biggest basketball stage.
“When I was playing for the Clippers, I gave it everything I had every night when I laced up my sneakers. And now that I’m here with the Los Angeles Lakers, that’s the same thing I’m gonna do here,” he said. “This is my job, and I’m blessed to be on a team that was strong enough and deep enough and have the talent enough to win the championship last year.”
Since coming to the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade as part of the team’s rebuild, Harrell embodied so much of what the team’s been about.
His hair would fly around as he thrusted toward the basket, with force and effort taking the place of grace. He would pound his chest and flex his muscles while the crowd howled. He became one of the NBA’s top reserves and helped the Clippers own some of the NBA’s most-appreciated depth.
But with free agency after last season looming, questions began about what Harrell actually was worth to the organization. In January, Harrell called out teammates for a lack of consistent effort and intensity after a blowout home loss to Memphis. After losing his grandmother early in the restart, Harrell struggled in the bubble.
Sign-and-trade partners didn’t emerge, and with it clear that he’d need a new home, Harrell considered his options. He quickly settled on the Lakers. He signed a two-year deal for their mid-level exception, worth $19 million.
“If you spend your career in any place long enough, you’re going to want to still keep playing there and keep growing there. So, of course I still have great respect for those guys and for that organization,” Harrell said of the Clippers. “But like I said, as far as [if] they wanted me back, obviously it doesn’t seem that way, does it?”
By trading JaVale McGee to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers open up salary cap space to come to terms on a free-agent deal with Marc Gasol.
The Clippers’ loss can be the Lakers’ gain. The things that worked so well with the Clippers might be even more treasured with the Lakers.
Harrell’s off-the-bench offense should be more valued across the hall at Staples Center, while playing with defenders like Anthony Davis and Alex Caruso can help make up for some of his deficiencies that had the Clippers ready to move on. And playing with LeBron James, the game’s best player and most powerful leader, should help Harrell.
The skills he brings paired with his relentless energy and willingness to sacrifice his body and take charges should endear him to his new teammates and Lakers fans.
“I just want to complement the Lakers,” Harrell said. “That’s not really a hard thing to do, man. You’re playing with two premier superstars in our league in LeBron and AD, and these guys, their record speaks for itself, the names for speak for themselves. When you have guys on the floor of that high caliber, I don’t feel like it’s going to take that much getting used to.
“I just want to do anything it takes to win the game,” he added. “That’s all that really matters.”
And now, it’s going to matter for the Lakers.
The Clippers might have to turn to trades now to revamp their roster, with Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac and Lou Williams potentially on the block.
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