Last year, when the Lakers used their full mid-level exception to give Montrezl Harrell a two-year, $19 million deal with a $9.7 million player option in the second season, the widely held expectation was that the then-reigning Sixth Man of the Year would be a one-season spark plug off the bench, contribute to a title contender, and then get paid on his next deal in free agency this summer.
That... is not exactly how things went during Harrell’s time in Los Angeles. The former Clippers center finished sixth in Sixth Man of the Year voting this season, averaging 13.5 points and 6.2 rebounds on 62.2% shooting while coming off the bench in all but one of his 69 games. He was a durable energizer bunny who provided scoring for a Lakers roster that was at times starved for it, and helped the team steal some regular season games they wouldn’t have won without his juice.
Then the playoffs happened, and head coach Frank Vogel did what he did last year when looking for answers to the problems an opponent presented: Put more defense on the floor. After the Lakers lost Game 1 to the Phoenix Suns, Harrell was a DNP-CD in Games 2 and 3 (both wins) as Vogel went with Marc Gasol and Andre Drummond before going back to Harrell for short minutes in the team’s three losses in Games 4, 5 and 6. Those losses weren’t solely Harrell’s fault by any means, but he struggled defensively as the Suns hunted and picked on him. And after two straight playoff runs in which he struggled, it’s fair to wonder whether or not he’d lose money by opting out and testing free agency.
At exit interviews on Friday, Harrell batted away repeated questions about his future.
“I came in every day, I did my job, I did what they asked me to do,” Harrell said. “I played my role. It’s as simple as that. As far as my future, I don’t know that holds right now. We just finished playing last night, so I can’t give you that answer right now brother, but I came in, I did my job and whenever my number was called I went out there, played to the best of my abilities and left it all on the floor.”
When Harrell was asked how the midseason addition of Drummond and presence of Marc Gasol in the postseason affected his role, he also sidestepped.
“Brother, you’re asking questions that are basically shown on paper. It shows the number of minutes I played, the amount of time I played, everything is right there in your hand. So as far as your question that you want the answer to, I don’t know how you really want me to answer that,” Harrell said. “Like I just told you, I played my role man, and when my number was called, I did what the team asked me to do.
“As far as how that role played out in the rotation, you’re asking the wrong guy sitting in front of you brother man,” Harrell said, laughing.
You can watch the whole thing here:
The exchange did not exactly offer a great degree of confidence that Harrell was thrilled about how his time in Los Angeles went, and after dealing with an up-and-down role and being shopped at the trade deadline, it’s hard to blame him for at least thinking about his options. Harrell also wouldn’t confirm or deny if the team told him during his exit interview that he was in their future plans.
“Brother man, you’re digging a little bit too deep into what I don’t have answers to. Nice try, but like I told you man, the game just ended last night. I’m about to go home and be a dad. You want to know about that, you can ask questions about that,” Harrell said.
“But as far as my future with being a Lakers basketball player, we’ll worry about that later when free agency time rolls around, brother.”
Free agency won’t take place until Aug. 2, and in addition to giving the Lakers a lot of time to think about how they want to build their team moving forward, their early exit will also give Harrell a lot of time off to ponder his own next steps. But during an answer about whether or not the team gave him anything to work on over the summer, Harrell may have given an indication about where his expectations for the future lie.
“I just finished year six, so I’m a little bit further advanced, so I kind of know what my game is a little bit in this league, and I know what I want to work on as a player,” Harrell said. “At the end of the day, you’re auditioning for every team in this league. Like, that’s just what it is. There’s not a lot of guys who just have a say of where they can pick and play, and we all know that.”
Harrell could pick playing for the Lakers, but given his rollercoaster of a role this season and how the campaign ended both for him personally and for the team as a whole, it’s fair for their to be significant doubt over whether either side will really want a reunion. We’ll see over the next couple of months how it all shakes out.