Clippers’ Championship Future Could Ride on This Free Agent

Montrezl Harrell, at right, of the Clippers, with Lou Williams

Getty Montrezl Harrell, at right, of the Clippers, with Lou Williams

It’s been a good year for Montrezl Harrell—at least it was before the NBA season was derailed in March because of the spread of the novel coronavirus. Primarily coming off the bench for the Clippers, Harrell was averaging 18.6 points and 7.6 rebounds, both career highs, and had solidified himself as one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the league.

He’s also been one of the league’s biggest bargains. Harrell started his career as a second-round pick of the Rockets, earned a second-round salary for three seasons then signed a team-friendly free-agent contract with the Clippers in 2018, earning $6 million per year over two years.

But Harrell’s bargain days likely are nearing an end. He will be a free agent this summer and if all else were equal, he would easily make more in the first year of his new contract than he has in the first five seasons of his career (about $15.5 million).

“In a normal market, I think he’d get something like three years and $50-55 million,” one general manager told “He is great at what he does, playing in the pick-and-roll and defending and staying within himself. He’s not a floor-stretcher, though. There’s not a lot of diversity in his game. But if you have the right offense to take advantage of what he does, he has a lot of value.”

Harrell Among NBA’s Best Pick-and-Roll Bigs

That value could lead Harrell to look for an opportunity elsewhere. That would affect point guard Lou Williams, Harrell’s bench running mate, more than anyone on the team. Harrell averages 3.8 points per game on pick-and-rolls and is one of the most efficient players in the league at the play.

Williams runs pick-and-roll on 51.8 percent of his possessions, which ranks fifth in the league. The two feed off each other–and the Clippers’ bench typically feasts on other reserve units. L.A. gets 51.5 points per game from the bench, by far the most in the NBA.

Williams said recently that he hopes Harrell stays put but he expects his friend and teammate to explore his options.

“I feel like we will continue to be great together,” Williams told ESPN’s Ros Gold-Onwude. “Obviously, business is business and Trez has a family to take care of, 1, and, 2, this is his career, this is his opportunity to put himself in a great position financially in his career. He can find somewhere he gets his just due, he gets the money he deserves and he gets the opportunity he deserves. And I really hope we’re going to be that opportunity for him.”

Clippers Have Advantage in Re-Signing Harrell

Of course, it is not a normal market, not with the season still in hiatus and with league financial losses piling up. That might benefit the Clippers in the end. The team has wiggle room under the luxury tax threshold to keep Harrell and, barring a trade, they’ll be in a better position than anyone to give him a sizable contract.

Few teams in the upcoming offseason market will have cap space available. And of those teams, none is a good match for Harrell.

The Hawks, for example, just traded for their own pick-and-roll master, center Clint Capela. They also have John Collins. The Knicks are a possibility, too, but Harrell is the kind of player you sign when you’re already a contender, not when you’re at the outset of a rebuild. If the Knicks trade for a point guard like Chris Paul, pursuing Harrell makes more sense. But that’s a longshot.

The Clippers likely have the best chance for Harrell to sign an eight-figure contract and remain with a talent-laden contender. For a guy who has been underpaid his whole career, that’s the hope.

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