LOS ANGELES (AP) — Montrezl Harrell did not make the trip lightly when he moved down the Staples Center hallway last weekend to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
The NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year realizes the gravity of his decision to leave the Los Angeles Clippers after three seasons – and to leave them for their bigger, more successful intra-city rivals, no less.
The decision turned out to be surprisingly simple, though. According to Harrell, the NBA champion Lakers made it clear they badly wanted him in the opening minutes of free agency.
The Clippers did not.
“If you spend your career in any place long enough, you’re going to want to continue playing there and growing there,” Harrell said Monday. “Of course, I still have great respect for those guys and for that organization. But as far as if they wanted me back? Obviously, it just doesn’t seem that way, does it?”
The tenacious forward who plays much bigger than his 6-foot-7 frame agreed to a two-year deal during the Lakers’ impressive roster-building spree in the opening days of free agency. Harrell seems to be a clear upgrade on departed Dwight Howard in the Lakers’ retooled lineup as a much younger player bringing a more complete offensive game and defensive intensity to the champs.
“I’m definitely going to be with a team that wanted me and with a group of guys that I’m going to build chemistry with fast,” Harrell said.
Harrell still had mixed emotions about leaving the Clippers, where he became a key player two seasons before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George arrived to transform the roster a year ago. A former second-round pick by Houston who spent time in the D-League as a rookie, Harrell identified strongly with the Clippers’ perpetual underdog mentality, particularly when contrasted with the Lakers’ banners and glamour.
“When I was playing for the Clippers, I gave it everything I had every night I laced up my sneakers,” Harrell said. “Now that I’m here with the Los Angeles Lakers, that’s the same thing I want to do here. I’m blessed to be on a team that was strong enough and deep enough to win the tournament and the championship last year.”
Harrell is confident he can get used to being on the other side of the power dynamic, particularly since he’ll get to contend for a championship. The Clippers crashed out in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs in the bubble, while the Lakers went all the way with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
After his best regular season as a pro, Harrell received criticism for his postseason play in the bubble while he was grieving the death of his grandmother, to whom he was extremely close.
After averaging 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in the regular season, Harrell put up only 10.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in the playoffs for the Clippers, who blew a 3-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets to ruin the much-anticipated, all-Los Angeles conference final.
Harrell’s cross-hallway move is major, but actually not that unusual. He is just the latest among more than 40 NBA players to suit up for both of LA’s teams since the Clippers moved from San Diego in 1984. The list includes Lamar Odom, Glen Rice, Ron Harper, Norm Nixon, Matt Barnes, Nick Young, Antawn Jamison, recent Lakers guard Jared Dudley and current Clippers guard Lou Williams.
Harrell was quite successful in pick-and-roll situations with Williams in the Clippers’ second unit, and he could be just as dangerous with James’ playmaking or with Dennis Schroder, the Lakers’ newly acquired sparkplug point guard. Harrell also could fit well defensively alongside Davis, the center-sized big man who prefers to guard forwards.
Although that new chemistry will take time to develop, the Lakers’ roster reconfiguration suggests they’ll be strong contenders to repeat.
Along with Schroder and Harrell, the Lakers confirmed the addition of Wesley Matthews and the re-signings of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris over the past two days. Veteran big man Marc Gasol is on his way to join his big brother’s old team in place of inconsistent JaVale McGee, while Alex Caruso is returning along with Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker.
The Lakers are still waiting to re-sign Davis when he decides on the preferred size and length of his contract, but that near-formality will be the crowning move in general manager Rob Pelinka’s impressive two years of roster-building.
After spending last season alongside Leonard and George, Harrell can’t wait to line up alongside Davis and James when training camp opens next week.
“To complement the Lakers, that’s not a hard thing to do,” Harrell said. “You’re playing with two premier superstars in this league. Their record speaks for itself. I don’t think it’s going to take much to get used to.”