Montrezl Harrell may be known more for his finishing skill than his playmaking, but if there is one thing that has also become clear during his time with the Lakers so far, it’s that off the floor, the reserve big man is incredibly skilled in the art of the redirect. Like when he isolates against a defender, he knows where he wants to get to, and he’s not going to let the original premise of the question stop him.
He’s made it clear that he doesn’t feel the Clippers wanted him back, even without explicitly saying so. He took a softball question about what he’s seen from the Clippers’ young players as an opportunity to say he doesn’t want to discuss his former team, but said a lot about how he feels about said former team in the process of that omission. He took a query about how the Lakers’ multitude of players that share his agency, Klutch Sports, have helped him feel welcome with the Lakers as an opportunity to push back on the idea that his representation had anything to do with his free agency decision, even though that’s not what he was asked about at all. His verbal face-up game is diverse, and whatever is standing in front of him, he’s still going to go where he wants to go.
Speaking of that face-up game, though, Harrell was asked on Monday if that was something he wanted to show more of this year, and it was hard not to feel the cool breeze of the shade enveloping the other side of Staples Center in his answer (emphasis mine):
“Honestly it’s just being able to play my game, not being totally set on ‘it’s gotta be this, this or this... It’s gotta be threes, layups or free throws.’ It’s not like that over here. They play to their style of everybody’s game, and we’re not looking at anyone like you got to do this, you got to do that. Man, we play basketball over here.
“It’s a free-flowing game, nobody tries to go outside of themselves, and I think that’s what the best thing is about being over here on this team and being with these guys, because everybody does what they already do well, nobody tries to go out there and prove they do something that people haven’t seen really. So really it’s just having the free-flowing, free feel from not only the coaching staff, but the players that are on the floor to know what you put into the game and what you bring to the game, and to just be confident in the shots that you take. And we’re all living with it, nobody is going to say anything bad about it. Like I said, it’s a free-flowing feel.”
Harrell’s repeated references to “here” would seem to imply that somewhere nearby, things weren’t quite so free flowing, and that in that other, unnamed place, people did try to go outside of themselves, or try to prove they could do something they couldn’t do. You could put on a sweater and settle in on the grass under the cool, oak tree’s worth of shade being thrown at the Clippers in those two paragraphs.
Even when asked about how competitive the Lakers’ scrimmages are, it’s difficult to not hear Harrell talking about another organization in the subtext of his response (again, emphasis mine):
“Honestly, they’re (the scrimmages) definitely competitive because everyone on this team has that winning mindset and that grit, that competitiveness to win. And I think it’s a great characteristic to have, man.
“When you’re pushing each other that hard it just goes to show it’s going to be even crazier when we apply that to somebody else and we’re all together as a team... We know that we’re bringing the best out of each other and it’s going to carry over to games.”
Now maybe things are more innocent. Maybe Harrell really just wants to praise his teammates here, and wasn’t even thinking about his former Clippers cohorts. But it’s hard not to read into things like that, given everything else Harrell has said (and not said), and how his time with the Clippers ended. Just like his decision to join the Lakers, he seems to have put thought into these answers, and knows where he wants to go, regardless of what he’s actually being asked about. The static electricity of his play carries over off the floor into a simmering intensity.
And as long as it carries over into productivity that helps the Lakers win, no one is going to worry about the festering wounds of rejection that are clearly still eating at Harrell, and motivating him to go out and prove that this team is different, and that despite him getting most of the blame on the way out, that it was the Clippers were the problem, not his ability to fit into a winning situation. It will be a long time before the two teams play in a matchup that really counts — provided the Clippers don’t blow another 3-1 lead before then — but every move Harrell makes, and just about every word he speaks, makes it clear that those games can’t come soon enough, as far as he’s concerned.
And it sounds like he and the team over here will be ready when they do.