When NBA free agency began on Friday, Montrezl Harrell waited for teams to reach out to his agent, Rich Paul, who then brought Harrell the offers he’d received. After spending some time talking with his family, Harrell quickly decided that the Los Angeles Lakers were the best spot for him moving forward, and agreed to join their roster for the full mid-level exception just hours into free agency.
During his first Zoom call with the media since signing with the Lakers, Harrell didn’t say who the other teams that made him offers were, but judging from what he had to say, the Clippers — who he’d spent the last three season playing for — either didn’t make him an offer, or at the very least didn’t make him feel valued with whatever they did have to say.
So the question begged asking: Did Harrell feel like the Clippers wanted him back?
“That goes without saying,” Harrell said. “Apparently not if I’m on the other side. That’s what it is, really.”
He got a much better feeling from the Lakers. As soon as he’d agreed to sign, general manager Rob Pelinka and head coach Frank Vogel gave him a call to let him know how excited they were to add him to their team, something Harrell called an honor given how much success they’d had without him last season.
“That just feels pretty good, man,” Harrell said.
After the season Harrell went through last year, it’s not surprising he’d feel that way. The Clippers clearly had chemistry issues all season, whether it was reports from The Athletic that players that had been there before the summer of 2019 resented the “preferential treatment” of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, or that Harrell, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley “bristled” that Leonard was “permitted to take games off to manage his body and to live in San Diego, which often led to him being late for team flights” and also allowed “to dictate to (former head coach Doc) Rivers when he could be pulled from games.”
How true any of those one things were singularly is less relevant than the totality of the leaks — and how much turnover the Clippers have had since — making it plain that there were problems in that locker room.
Harrell wasn’t referencing those reports specifically when asked about what he’d learned from Williams and Beverley during his time with the Clippers, but the knowledge of their existence makes the wisdom he says he gleaned from them seem a bit more significant.
“If you’re not one of the top-tier players in our league — which we all know who those players are — everybody is expendable,” Harrell said.
That is the case with every team, and Harrell surely wasn’t blameless for everything that went on with the Clippers, because everyone plays a part where there is that level of dysfunction. But it’s fair to guess that Harrell may already feel a bit more familial vibes from his new organization, and not just because Pelinka and Vogel wanted him.
Harrell is represented by Klutch Sports, which also represents teammates LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Talen Horton-Tucker, and he says is more like “a family” than just a sports agency. Klutch holds events and pickup games during the offseason, and while he says that Klutch itself didn’t play a role in him picking the Lakers, it’s hard not to think that his familiarity with all of those guys wouldn’t make the decision at least a little easier.
“Honestly, it’s a business decision. I felt like it’s the right decision for me, I talked with my family and this is where we decided that we wanted to go. It’s as simple as that,” Harrell said. “I’m definitely going to be with a team that wanted me, and with a group of guys that I’m going to gravitate well to and build chemistry with fast.”
But while that chemistry will probably come quickly off the court, on the court is where there are bigger questions about how exactly Harrell will fit into what the Lakers are trying to do, and what made them champions last season. Our own Sabreena Merchant, who covers the Lakers for us and Clippers for Clips Nation — and is thus as qualified as anyone to discuss this pairing — thinks Harrell will have value, but will also serve as a test for the Lakers’ identity. But those concerns are all external. The Lakers obviously feel Harrell can fit, or they wouldn’t have pursued him so rapidly, and he certainly doesn’t sound worried about his role. He says he’s started and come off the bench during his career, and brought up how he has ranked highly in the league in charges. He says that all of it should show he’s willing to sacrifice his body and play whatever role it takes to help this team repeat.
”Honestly, as far as complementing the Lakers, that’s not really a hard thing to do, man. You’re playing with two premiere superstars in our league in LeBron and AD, these guys’ records speak for themselves. When you have guys on the floor of that high caliber, I don’t feel it’s going to take that much getting used to,” Harrell said. “I don’t feel like I have to play one particular style, really. I basically just want to do anything that it takes to win the game. That’s all that really matters.
“I’m blessed to be on a team that was strong enough and deep enough and had the talent enough to end up winning the championship last year, so me just coming into the mix, I’m just trying to do anything I can to help them get back to that same place.”
And while Harrell didn’t say it, the subtext of his whole chat with the media was the underlying awkwardness of his seemingly involuntary Clippers exodus. If the reigning Sixth Man of the Year who had the best years of his career for the Clippers was available to the Lakers for the mid-level exception — playoff struggles aside — the Clippers obviously didn’t value retaining him. It’s something Harrell clearly feels the sting of.
“Honestly, I feel that 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. “As far as if they wanted me back, obviously it just doesn’t seem that way, does it?”
No, it doesn’t, but Harrell is ready to move on from all that, and start a new chapter with the team down the hall. And if the rejection of his former organization serves as more motivation, then well, the Lakers will surely take it. But either way, Harrell knows how his new team feels about him.
“This is a team that wanted me, and a team that thinks highly of me. I’m honored and thankful for that and blessed to be here,” Harrell said.