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Newsletter: Lakers newsletter: Montrezl Harrell finding more freedom across the hallway

Lakers center Montrezl Harrell drives to basket against Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith on Dec. 25, 2020.
Lakers center Montrezl Harrell drives to basket against Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith during their Christmas Day game.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

Hi, this is Dan Woike, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.

It’s been a year since Montrezl Harrell’s frustration boiled over. His Clippers had just gotten waxed by the Memphis Grizzlies, and Harrell felt like he needed to set everyone straight.

“We’re not a great team,” he said. “That’s the one thing y’all need to get out of your mind. We’re not a great team.”

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The postgame skewering highlighted the Clippers’ chemistry problems, as a player who wasn’t one of the established stars was calling for more effort — a not-so-veiled shot at the team’s stars.

It didn’t play well in the Clippers organization, even if it was true, as people with the team said Harrell wasn’t exactly a model of accountability either.

In the 12 months since his locker-room callout, Harrell has a new team — he didn’t have to change addresses — and the same-old game, giving the Lakers life when they need it with his high-efficiency offense and unrelenting energy.

Lakers center Montrezl Harrell is fouled by Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan during their game Dec. 30, 2020, in San Antonio.
The Lakers’ Montrezl Harrell is fouled by the Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan during their game Dec. 30 in San Antonio.
(Ronald Cortes / Getty Images)

“It’s definitely a great feeling to have chemistry and the camaraderie that the guys have with one another already early in the season,” Harrell said. “Honestly, the only thing I think that’s going to happen is that it’s going to continue to grow. Guys, it’s a great vibe. It’s a great energy around us, man.”

Energy can be a bit of a dirty word in the NBA — the not-so-subtle implication being that your success is tied to simply playing harder than anyone else and not because of talent.

Lakers center Marc Gasol bristled at the association for Harrell, saying his skill is too great for the “energy” label to be so prominent.

The Lakers have certainly entrusted Harrell to show more all-around skill than he did with the Clippers, for whom he was primarily a pick-and-roll partner and occasional face-up player.

With the Lakers, he has expanded his game and shown that he can make midrange jumpers out of post moves — he’s made five already this season.

“Trez is gonna have it in the post, [and] if a player is just gonna back up on him, it makes it harder to score at the rim,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “So in some ways, in everything you do, you have to take what the defense gives you, and he’s shown the ability to knock that shot down. He has the green light to take it.”

Harrell praised the Lakers’ freedom within their offensive system, a freedom that makes him comfortable to square up and shoot from 15 feet if it’s the right play.

“It’s really just being able to just play my game and just not being kind of told, ’You always got to be this, this or this.’ It’s kind of been the system I’ve kind of been playing in for a while. It’s got to be threes, layups or let’s get free throws. But that’s not like that over here,” Harrell said. “They play to the stye of everybody’s game, and we’re not looking at anybody that you have to do this, you got to do that, man. We play basketball over here. It’s a free-flowing game.”

Harrell’s impact on the Lakers primarily will be on the offensive end, and as long as Gasol and Anthony Davis are available, the Lakers will have other options when they need a defensive presence.

Harrell is in a role in which he can do what he does — no more, no less — and it’s seemed to be just what the Lakers need.

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Text of the week

“What’s Dennis Schröder’s contract negotiation status? Will we be able to keep him past this year?”

Víctor from Dallas

Good question. Schröder’s extension is something that’s come up umlaut. OK, that’s awful.

No more German puns allowed.

Schröder’s extension is essentially on hold until February, when the Lakers can give him a richer deal. There are rules inside the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement limiting a team’s ability to reward players with extensions right after a trade.

All signs point to one getting done — $20 million a year seems like a reasonable number — Schröder showing that he’s the capable playmaker, shot creator and defensive pest they hoped he would be when they acquired him from Oklahoma City.

The Lakers’ starters have been a dominant group together this season, and Schröder deserves some of the credit.

Unnamed video segment

This week, I sat down with my friend Jason Goff, who hosts the pregame and postgame shows for the Chicago Bulls on NBC Sports Chicago.

With the Bulls in town Friday, Jason and I spoke about Zach LaVine, the Lakers’ changes and Chicago baby names (guilty).

Enjoy.

Watch the video by clicking here.

The Times’ Dan Woike discusses the Chicago Bulls with pregame and postgame host Jason Goff

Song of the week

Michael Kiwanuka — “Home Again”

One of the best parts of covering the NBA is the travel — the airports, the restaurants, the hotels and the people you get to experience as your crisscross the country chasing a team. The road is great — coming home is even better.

The Lakers get a quick taste of home before heading back out for their longest roadie of the first half. We celebrate the coming and going with Michael Kiwanuka’s dreamy ballad, a song that captures the happiness of walking in the door and the sadness of closing it on the way out.

Michael Kiwanuka sings “Home Again”

In case you missed it ...

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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