Montrezl Harrell: Lakers wanted me more than Clippers did

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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.”

Owners approve sale of Suns to Mat Ishbia, deal reportedly expected to close Tuesday

Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons
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The Phoenix Suns should have a new owner by the end of the day.

The NBA’s Board of Governors (the other owners) voted 29-0 Monday to approve the Phoenix Suns and Mercury sale to an ownership group led by Mat Ishbia.

What that will mean for the Suns’ organization — in terms of spending on basketball operations and the roster, as well as the business structure of the franchise — remains to be seen. But the change should be welcomed by Suns fans who dealt with decades of the penny-pinching of Sarver.

Ishbia — a walk-on reserve guard for the Michigan State Spartans that won the national championship in 2000 under Tom Izzo — will own 57% of the team, valued at a league-record $4 billion for the sale. That sale price blows away the previous record for an NBA team of $3.3 billion (what Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center).

Ishbia made his billions as the chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest mortgage lender, United Wholesale Mortgage, formally called UWM Holdings. Mat’s father Jeff founded the business and it has grown to be one of the largest mortgage lenders in the United States, and Ishbia is worth a reported $5.1 billion. Mat is joined by his brother Justin — also a billionaire and part-owner of UWM — as co-owner and alternate governor for the team.

With the sale going through and changes coming, Suns president and CEO Jason Rowley chose to step down and leave the team. Rowley had been linked to the toxic work environment that led to former owner Robert Sarver agreeing to sell the team. A league-sponsored investigation into Sarver and how he ran the Suns found a hostile work environment with sexual harassment rampant. NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Sarver $10 million (the max he could do) and suspended Sarver for a yeara slap on the wrist — but pressure from sponsors and other NBA owners pushed Sarver to sell the team and step away. Don’t shed a tear for Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004 for a then-record $401 million, but now sold his share for an estimated $1.48 billion.

Three things to Know: Cam Thomas takes over in Brooklyn, scores 47

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Cam Thomas takes over Brooklyn, scores 44 for shorthanded Nets

The list of players who have scored 40+ points in back-to-back games this season reads like the top seven picks of a fantasy draft: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, LeBron James, and Damian Lillard.

Now add Cam Thomas to that list.

With Kevin Durant injured and Kyrie Irving now in Dallas, the Brooklyn Nets’ second-year scoring guard has taken over the offense. He scored a career-high 44 against the Wizards on Saturday night, then on Monday topped that with 47 against the Clippers, hitting 7-of-11 from 3.

The Nets needed this. Brooklyn has been Team Drama since Kyrie Irving didn’t get his extension and demanded a trade, which has led to a lot of speculation around the league about Kevin Durant being next out the door (sources told NBC Sports to expect that issue to be resolved over the summer, not in the tight window of the trade deadline).

Thomas has been able to score since he was drafted out of LSU, but that skill was less needed when Irving and Durant were healthy and dominating the ball. His defense, playmaking, efficiency and all-around game improved this season, but the veteran-heavy Nets had guys the coaches trusted more in his role, so Thomas racked up a lot of DNP-CDs this season.

However, when the Nets needed him, he stepped up and put on a show. He is earning his run, even when Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith show up and get on the court, and Durant gets healthy.

Thomas’ career-best night wasn’t enough against the Clippers. A late 9-0 Clippers run changed the game and Los Angeles picked up the win on the road. Paul George led the Clippers with 29 points, while Kawhi Leonard added 24.

The Clippers went an impressive 4-2 on their Grammys road trip (the awards show takes over crypto.com Arena for a couple of weeks) and have moved up to fourth in the West as they head home, showing flashes of a team that could be coming together.

2) With Curry out, Klay Thompson steps up and drops 42

Stephen Curry will be out “weeks” with a leg injury, leaving concerns about where the stumbling Warriors will find enough offense.

The answer was Klay Thompson. At least on Monday night. He knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points leading the Warriors to a comfortable blow-out win over the Thunder.

Jordan Poole Sixth Man of the Year bettors are hosed as he is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, and he impressed with 21 points with 12 assists (a career-best). This was a quality win for the Warriors as the surprising Thunder have pushed themselves into contention for a play-in spot and the Warriors need to keep their head above water until Curry returns some time after the All-Star break.

3) Sale of Suns to Mat Ishbia expected to close Tuesday

The Phoenix Suns should have a new owner by the end of the day.

The NBA’s Board of Governors — the other owners — voted to approve the sale of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury to an ownership group led by Mat Ishbia.

Ishbia — a walk-on reserve guard for the Michigan State Spartans that won the national championship in 2000 — will own 57% of the team, valued at a league-record $4 billion for the sale.

Ishbia made his billions as the chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest mortgage lender, United Wholesale Mortgage, formally called UWM Holdings. Mat’s father founded the business, which is now worth a reported $7 billion, with Ishbia himself worth a reported $5.1 billion.

This brings an end to the Robert Sarver era in Phoenix, which is reason for Suns fans to celebrate. Sarver was a penny-pinching owner who agreed to sell the team after an investigation into his running of the Suns’ franchise had led to a hostile work environment and sexual harassment claims. Don’t shed a tear for Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004 for a then-record $401 million and just sold his share for $1.48 billion.

Watch Klay Thompson knock down 12 3-pointers, lift Warriors to win without Curry

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Stephen Curry was not in the building, the first of maybe a month of games he’s going to miss with a leg injury. Who would take charge of the Warriors’ offense with No. 30 out?

Klay Thompson.

Thompson knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points to lead the Warriors as they blew past the Thunder.

“It was a beautiful game to watch him play…” Draymond Green said of Thompson, via the Associated Press.”We needed it. It’s been a while since we had a blowout win. It’s good to get this one, especially first game with Steph out. It was good to start off on this foot and try to create some momentum.”

Jordan Poole is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, scoring 21 points with 12 assists (a career best).

All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 20 points. But this was Thompson’s night. And one for the Warriors.

NBA owners, players union agree to push back CBA opt-out date. Again.

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The NBA and players union are progressing toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Just not very fast progress. In December, they pushed the opt-out date for both sides — when either the owners or players could opt out and end the CBA on June 30 of this year — to Feb. 8.

They aren’t going to hit that deadline either so the two sides have agreed to push the new opt-out date back to March 31, they announced.

“The NBA and NBPA have mutually agreed to extend the deadline to opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) from Feb. 8, 2023, to March 31, 2023, as the two sides continue negotiations to reach a new agreement,” the sides said in a joint release. “If either party exercises the opt-out, the CBA’s term will conclude on June 30, 2023.”

There is one bit of good news in the talks, the owners have backed off the “upper spending limit” idea, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. At least some owners — troubled by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — pushed for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams, which the players saw as a hard cap and a deal breaker.

As the sides pursue an early labor deal, a significant part of what has allowed discussions to progress has been the NBA’s willingness to soften from its original push for an upper spending limit on team payrolls — a de facto hard cap, sources said.

Still, expect changes to the luxury tax system to attempt to rein in the spending of some owners. There are a lot of economic concerns that will push toward a deal getting done, including this interesting note:

There are broader economic concerns looming for the league that are motivating factors in reaching a new labor deal in the coming weeks and months — including the potential bankruptcy of the Sinclair/Diamond Sports Regional Sports Networks, which is responsible for broadcasting 16 of the league’s teams on local deals. The longer labor talks linger, the more moderate positions among ownership can harden on financial issues and risk deeper difficulties on reaching a new labor deal.

The conventional wisdom has long been there would be no lockout and potential work stoppage because every side was making money again, the trajectory of the league was good, and nobody wanted to slam the breaks on that momentum. But there is always a risk, especially if the owners are fighting among themselves. Which is why a deal getting done sooner rather than later is best for everyone — especially fans.