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With the appropriate emojis, Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley captured the team’s frustrated sentiments over two developments. Not only did Montrezl Harrell leave the organization. He joined the Lakers, the NBA’s defending champions and the Clippers’ cross-town rivals.
“They understand the business,” Harrell said Monday in a conference call with reporters. “Honestly, I’ve learned the business from those guys.”
After all, Beverley and Lou Williams often switch teams because organizations put them in trade deals. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joined the Clippers last season in pursuit of an NBA title. But as much as Harrell made what he called “a business decision” by joining the Lakers, his departure also had more to do than with just joining forces with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
It also pointed to the Clippers’ interest, or lack thereof, in retaining Harrell.
“I still have great respect for those guys and for that organization,” Harrell said. “But like I said, as far as if they wanted me back, obviously it doesn’t seem that way, does it?”
Harrell did not detail the level of conversations the Clippers had with him once free agency began Friday. But it became obvious the Lakers had strong interest in Harrell, who won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award after ranking second in bench scoring (18.6) while shooting 58% from the field with 7.1 rebounds.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Frank Vogel both talked with Harrell on the phone about their interest. Pelinka had said he wanted to upgrade the roster with a mix of young and veteran players that become “star role players” and play with grit. In Harrell’s case, he fulfilled that job description perfectly with the Clippers.
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“I’m definitely going to be with a team that wanted me and a group of guys that I felt that gravitate well to and that I’m going to build chemistry with fast,” Harrell said. “I’m going to try get back to the same thing and the same feeling that they had this past year, which is another championship.”
So why would the Clippers not want to have Harrell in hopes that they can win an NBA championship? After the Clippers squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals, they remained open to making changes. After parting with coach Doc Rivers and replacing him with assistant Tyronn Lue, the Clippers then micro-analyzed their roster.
It did not help Harrell’s cause that he played inconsistently during the playoffs after missing time following the passing of his grandmother. But what Harrell normally offered with consistent scoring at the rim and hustle, he lacked in consistent defense and outside shooting. The Clippers acquired Serge Ibaka, believing that he can be a more dependable and versatile option than Harrell.
“I feel that if you spend your career at any place long enough, you want to continue to still be in there and keep growing there,” said Harrell, who played for the Clippers the past three seasons.
Instead, Harrell found the Lakers as an interested partner.
“I’ve just always been in an underdog position and always having to work and overcome and do all of the things that don’t really show up in the stat sheet every single night to still be noticed,” Harrell said. “I don’t know how it’s going to complement the Lakers. That’s not really a hard thing to do. You’re playing with two premier superstars in our league with LeBron and AD.”
As much as Harrell’s life might become easier with James and Davis, the Lakers believe their star duo’s life becomes easier with Harrell’s presence for two reasons.
After lacking a definitive third option last season, the Lakers now view Harrell as that person. After relying heavily last season on James and Davis, the Lakers would like to reduce their workload to minimize injuries and burnout after winning an NBA title just over a month ago. The NBA begins training camps around Dec. 1 and the season on Dec. 22.
“As far as what I can do to take the load off of AD and Bron? I don’t really feel like that’s a ‘me’ thing,” Harrell said. “That’s going to take our whole entire team. We have multiple pieces that we’ve added.”
The Lakers also acquired the NBA’s leading reserve scorer in Dennis Schroder, a former Defensive Player of the Year in Marc Gasol and a dependable perimeter shooter and defender in Wesley Matthews. The Lakers also retained Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and believe they can further develop fourth-year forward Kyle Kuzma.
Still, the Lakers consider Harrell their main free-agent acquisition. He is considered one of the NBA’s most consistent pick-and-roll finishers. He is considered one of the league’s toughest players, too. Because of those qualities, Harrell should receive easy looks at the rim and inhibit opponents from playing physical with his star teammates.
Harrell also sounded unconcerned with how he would fulfill these qualities after his season ended in mid-September.
“I don’t really have a problem with it. I’m not one of those guys to take a break anyway,” Harrell said. “If it wasn’t for COVID, I probably would’ve been playing at one of these other places in the Drew League or pickup games.”
Harrell worked out at the Lakers’ practice facility before training camp opened last year. Harrell, who shares the same agent as James and Davis in Rich Paul, said he often trains with other Klutch clients.
Still, Harrell’s new partnership was not inevitable. He said he did not think about possibly playing for the Lakers when he trained their last summer. He maintained that his “mindset in there is I’m going to kill everybody in here.” Though he described Klutch’s other clients as “family,” he said Paul, James and Davis “didn’t have any effect” on his desire to wear a purple and gold uniform.
Instead, Harrell signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Lakers for more practical reasons.
“This is my job,” Harrell said. “I’m blessed to be on a team that was strong enough and deep enough to win the championship last year. So me just coming into the mix, I’m trying to do anything I can to help them get back to that same place.”
To do that, Harrell plans to follow his usual role of “doing whatever it takes and whatever needs to be done,” including taking charges, making hustle plays or offering toughness.
“I still look at myself as an underdog in this game,” Harrell said. “At the end of the day, I want to be one of the tier players and one of the greats at the end of the day.”
For better and for worse, Harrell had a window into what that was like playing with the Clippers. Then he saw the successes and shortcomings that both Leonard and George experienced last season. He experienced his own successes and shortcomings in winning Sixth Man of the Year while grieving over his grandmother’s passing and competing in the NBA’s campus bubble.
Even if that marked the end of his time with the Clippers, Harrell sounded eager to become adaptable in co-existing with the Lakers’ star talent and handling the possibility of playing games at team arenas without fans.
“We just had to be able to adapt and deal with the things we had to make things work,” Harrell said. “I feel like every time you go to a new team, you’re going to have to be able to adapt and grow into a place, a system and how coaches want you to do things. That’s definitely one of the biggest things I can take from last season and carry it over into this one. As us as people in general, everybody understands we had to adapt to a completely different way of living right now.”
Because of that reality, Harrell senses his former Clippers teammates respect his decision to part ways.
“They understand basically talking that this is a business,” Harrell said. “If you’re not basically one of our top-tier players are in our league, which we all know which those players are, everybody is expendable on any level.”