LOS ANGELES – When the Los Angeles Clippers traded away Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, the team did its best to recoup players who could help mold their future. Out went Paul, in came Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell.
The Clippers knew exactly what they were getting in Patrick Beverley: a ferocious defender, a knockdown 3-point shooter, and more importantly, a culture-setter. Beverley came to Los Angeles as a five-year NBA vet, but a global European journeyman who played in Greece and Russia before finding his way to the league.
They also knew exactly what they were getting in Lou Williams: a bona-fide bucket-getter and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Williams, a then-12-year vet and Sixth Man of the Year winner, arrived back in LA three months after being traded from the Lakers to Houston.
The Clippers, however, did not fully know what they were getting in Montrezl Harrell. Head coach Doc Rivers and the organization knew they were getting an energy player. Little did they know he was only scratching the surface of his potential.
“We just didn’t know what we were getting with Trez,” Rivers said before the 2019-20 season. “We liked that he played hard and literally stopped there.”
The sample size had been small for the two-year big man out of Louisville. He’d played 97 games with the Rockets, starting only 15 of them due to injuries to guys ahead of him in the rotation. Harrell’s averages of 6.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 14.9 minutes per game offered little other than to say he had potential to be a contributor.
Then training camp arrived, and Harrell began to showcase his talents that took the coaching staff by surprise.
“In training camp, literally in training camp, the first year, I remember asking our coaches, on the third day, I said, ‘Is it Lou, or can Trez score?’ And I remember our guys, said, ‘He’s never scored.’ Everybody kind of rolled their eyes and I said, ‘I swear, I think he can score.’ And one of our coaches hilariously said, ‘On us, but we don’t know if he can score on an NBA team,’ and I was like, ‘Well, that’s a hell of a statement.’ And then, through training camp, through preseason, he kept scoring. On rolls, on handoffs and stuff like that. The post game was at the end of last year, and now that’s what changed. Before it was all rolls and hedges, now it’s post-ups.”
In three seasons, Montrezl Harrell went from an energy guy who made his impact by playing hard to a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He made the jump thanks, in part, to Lou Williams and the unstoppable one-two punch they’ve developed, but also also thanks to his never-ending desire to play basketball and develop his skill set.
While the rest of the NBA took extended time off from basketball in July and August to rest their bodies, Harrell didn’t appear to. His time off lasted a few weeks, if that, as his offseason was centered around workouts with renowned NBA trainer Rico Hines.
“The [workouts] were great, man,” said Harrell. “I worked on everything. My ball handling, I worked on being able to shoot the 3-pointer consistently, the turnaround jump shot, shooting from all over the mid-range confidently. I work on everything with Rico. He’s a great workout coach. He’s definitely a coach that’s been around the game for a while.”
Award nominees aren’t discussed often throughout the season, but Harrell’s averages of 19.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game on 56.9 percent shooting from the field are astounding for a reserve. It’s arguable that his only competition for Sixth Man of the Year includes Clippers teammate Lou Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroder, and Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Rose.
“He’s just great,” admitted Rivers following a recent game. “He means the world to our team.
“He’s matured from an energy player to a skill player, and with the energy and the traps, he was great with Lou. Now he’s a skill player. We give him the ball and tell him to go score. That’s on his own. That’s all Trez. He put in all the work, and he’s made himself into what he is. It’s pretty cool to watch.”
Since he already has three of them in his career, Williams has already endorsed Harrell for Sixth Man of the Year.
“Of course, y’all can start building that story now,” said Williams. “If anybody does it, I want it to be Trez.”
Montrezl Harrell entered the NBA via the 2015 NBA Draft with Klutch Sports and agent Rich Paul as his representation. In a surprising move, however, he left Klutch and switched to Drew Rosenhaus ahead of 2018 free agency. If you recognize that name, it’s because the popular NFL agent is also the former agent of troubled wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Entering restricted free agency, Harrell’s options were limited, and the big man ended up signing a two-year, $12 million deal. It was far less than Harrell hoped to get, and many around the league were stunned at the steal of a deal.
Harrell had the biggest year of his career in the first year of that contract, averaging 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game on 61.5 percent shooting from the field. His season was capped off by an incredible playoff performance, leading the Clippers to a pair of wins over the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, who were led by Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. He averaged 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists on 73.0 percent shooting in 26.3 minutes per game.
Green had nothing but respect for Harrell following the surprising series between the Clippers and Warriors.
“I respect a guy who get it out the mud and he’s a guy who gets it out the mud,” said Green. “No one expected Montrezl to be who he is in this league today and yet he’s put the work that he needed to put in and he’ll be in this league for a long time, so most importantly, I respect that.”
The 2018-19 season was where Harrell’s development really started to show, moving on from the casually thrown around ‘energy big man’ title and turning into a lethal offensive weapon on a nightly basis. The career year for Harrell led to another agency change.
In the summer of 2019, Harrell elected to switch agents, making the decision to return to Klutch Sports. The last time Harrell joined Klutch, they were still in the early parts of their rise. This time, Rich Paul had a proven track record of getting his clients paid. In the last couple of years, here are some of the deals that Klutch has negotiated for their clients without including the superstars like LeBron James, John Wall, and Ben Simmons:
Tristan Thompson: five-year, $82 million deal with the Cavs.
JR Smith: four-year, $57 million deal with the Cavs.
Dion Waiters: four-year, $52 million deal with the Heat.
Jordan Clarkson: four-year, $50 million deal with the Lakers.
Eric Bledsoe: four-year, $70 million extension with the Bucks.
Draymond Green: four-year, $100 million extension with the Warriors.
Dejounte Murray: four-year, $64 million extension with the Spurs.
Following what was likely a disappointing free-agency period that saw him make far less than expected, Montrezl Harrell is in line to get a significant raise this summer. Harrell is expected to earn somewhere between the $16-20 million range annually if he continues on his upward trend the last few months of the season. Pair that with the history of Klutch clients getting paid, and it’s no-brainer as to why Harrell made the jump back.
“It was the right move for me,” Harrell told ClutchPoints in training camp. “For me, early on, I definitely had too many people in my ear and I kind of let the wrong people kind of influence my decision last year leaving them. There were some things that we could’ve cleared up and actually talk about as gentlemen. But that was early on, in that stage of my career. I’ve grown, I’m matured, and that’s definitely the right place for me to be. Klutch is one of the top-tier agencies and I’m just happy to be back there with those guys.”
That shouldn’t rule out Harrell staying in free agency. The Clippers could elect to pay him his high asking price or attempt to negotiate a deal for a little less that works for both sides. The latter, however, seems unlikely at this moment.
“It would definitely be great [to stay with the Clippers long-term], but that’s not really something that I’m thinking about right now,” Harrell added to his preseason comments. “I’m thinking about this year, right now, and then taking each game one game at a time. Doing anything I can to help put my team in a position to be in that playoff race and then that championship race.”
That brings us to the big decision the Clippers have to make.
With just a few days remaining until the NBA’s trade deadline, the Clippers are on the clock. Do they trade Montrezl Harrell and get better fits to complement their roster? Do they keep Harrell for the championship run, and allow him to hit free agency this summer without any guarantees that he’ll re-sign?
LA is reportedly in the market for a wing player and a big man, according to Marc Stein of The New York Times. There are a few sellers around this time of year, but it’s unclear who they truly are beyond teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, and even the Houston Rockets, who are reportedly trying to trade Clint Capela in order to then bring in more depth on the wing and in the frontcourt.
The best course of action may be to defer any decisions regarding Harrell for now and strictly focus on improving the roster around the core of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and Patrick Beverley ahead of the trade deadline. Heck, if a perfect deal finds its way to the Clippers, it wouldn’t be shocking if they parted ways with Williams, Harrell, or Beverley. That’s not to say it’s going to happen, but the gut feeling is it’ll take a lot to part with any of those three culture-setters, but it is a possibility.
If there’s anything we’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that the Clippers are looking at any and every opportunity to improve their chances at the NBA championship. It was on full display with the Blake Griffin trade two years ago, and then again with the Tobias Harris trade last season.
The Clippers enter Monday with a 34-15 record. Of those 49 games played, only two have been fully healthy. Paul George has missed 21 games. Landry Shamet has missed 17 games. Rodney Kawhi Leonard and Rodney McGruder have each missed 12 games. Patrick Beverley has missed 11 games. JaMychal Green has missed nine games. And yet, they’re the second seed in the Western Conference.
The sample size is small, but it makes one wonder whether the team is actually fine and everyone is overreacting to their close wins and sloppy losses. In addition, the reports of locker room and chemistry issues appear to be far behind the Clippers, with the important part being that the team is jelling and still learning to play with one another.
They could use a two-way wing to complement Leonard and George, preferably one who can make 3-pointers consistently. They could also use a point guard/playmaker to help get guys better looks. A 7-foot center who can defend the rim and stretch the floor out to the 3-point line like a Dewayne Dedmon or a Gorgui Dieng would provide a different look from Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell.
These LA Clippers have many avenues toward improving their current roster, and rival teams are reportedly expecting them to make at least one move prior to the deadline. Will Montrezl Harrell be one of them? Should he be one of them?
We’ll see by Thursday afternoon.