Wow. In a move that absolutely no one saw coming, the Lakers have reportedly agreed to a free agent contract with big man Montrezl Harrell, luring the reigning 6th Man of the Year from the cross-town Clippers with a two year contract:
Honestly, I’m stunned.
From a talent standpoint, this is an undeniable win for the Lakers. Trez is a wonderful offensive talent, a high level scorer who plays with force pressuring the front of the rim relentlessly both in isolation and when playing in the P&R. His quickness allows him to attack bigger players with impunity, and if you play someone smaller on him he has enough bully ball in his game to get baskets in the post.
He’s also a high motor player who will thrive in transition and on the offensive glass, simply outworking his man on rim runs and when chasing out of area rebounds or offering second and third jumps to keep the ball alive. He’s not the most physically imposing player, but, on offense at least, he can play bigger than he is through a combination of his effort, long arms, and a motor that just revs high.
For the Lakers, then, this is clearly a play to keep their offense functioning at a high level throughout the course of the entire game — particularly when you stack this signing on top of the trade for Dennis Schröder. The potential for those two to play in the P&R has to be tantalizing to Rob Pelinka and the Lakers coaching staff, and the hope that Trez can capture some of the same chemistry he had with Lou Williams has to be on everyone’s mind.
What’s abundantly clear is that the Lakers are looking to build their offense in a very specific way: get players who score at the rim and figure the rest out. We all know about Bron and AD, but to stack Schröder and now Harrell on top of those two, the Lakers are going to try to live in the restricted area and win on offense by getting the highest possible percentage shots and forcing the defense to either surrender points or collapse to the point that the 3’s they generate are the widest of wide open.
In saying all that, this signing does not come without real questions and some reservations.
On the court, Harrell had a really rough restart and his deficiencies defensively were really exploited by the Nuggets. When I mentioned that Harrell can play bigger than his size offensively, that does not show up nearly as often defensively. When you’re a 6’7″ or 6’8″ big man, your defensive ability is going to be anchored in having the ballast to hold up against bigger players banging on you and the instincts + acumen to anticipate where you’re supposed to be and then get there quickly.
These are not traits Harrell is known for. He does not have a strong base or low center of gravity, so bigger players can overpower him. And while he can show a good sense of when and how to rotate early, it’s mostly to draw charges and not to deter or challenge shots at the rim to get blocks or to force misses by meeting players at the top. Don’t get me wrong, he can do these things, but they’re not strengths of his and if you’re relying on him to be a defensive difference maker, you’re going to be disappointed. That’s just not who he is.
Also, because he’s not a stretchy player, he’s going to want to live 15 feet and in offensively, which means building lineups with shooters around him to help give him the space to operate. There’s a certain kind of lineup to use around him and while the Lakers can offer those types of groupings, it’s something to be aware of. For example, he can play with AD, but it will be Davis who has to stretch to the arc to space for Harrell and not the opposite. The same goes for Bron. In saying that, it’s not all bad, Trez will certainly benefit from the attention those players draw both as a finisher off passes and by hitting the O-glass.
I’ll add here, too, that Trez was pretty outspoken on the Clippers this past season and reports of chemistry issues on that team could be traced back to some of his comments and feelings about how that group interacted and what their priorities and how hierarchical things could get on a team with 2 elite players like Kawhi and Paul George. One of the strengths of the Lakers last season was their chemistry and togetherness and one has to wonder if Trez will always be rowing in the same direction as his teammates. I expect a team with Bron and AD will set the right tone and everything will work out on this front, but it’s worth monitoring.
I’d also add that with Trez’s disappointing play in the bubble, there were real questions about how a player of his type — mostly offense, some defense, and not a lot of size — can hold up in the playoffs. Is he a great regular season player who will need to have a reduced role in the post season? I won’t say I believe that’s the case, but, again, it’s something that is worth considering. And if it actually is the case it’s a problem. There’s no spinning that.
Lastly, it’s worth talking about, quickly, his contract. Signing Harrell for the amount of money he’s making really is a good value. Before the shutdown and the circumstances of the restart + his playoff performance, there were thoughts Harrell would command a salary upwards of $18-20 million a season. He’ll make half that for the Lakers this upcoming season. That’s really good! That said, using the full MLE triggers the hard cap for the Lakers which means they now have a spending limit they absolutely cannot go over this year.
Does that impact being able to keep KCP? Does that mean the team can only sign minimum players beyond a potential KCP deal and, hopefully, AD’s max? Will they need to unload JaVale with no salary coming back in order to open up more spending room? If that’s the case, would they need to attach an asset to make it happen? That’s a lot of questions and not all the answers are destined to be on the negative side, I know. But, the hard cap creates these questions in the first place and that’s just more variables to consider when building out the rest of the roster.
Now, in saying all that, give me this player. He’s a real talent. He’s only 26 years old and just won the 6MOY award. The Lakers are getting younger and more dynamic offensively and if they can continue to hold onto some of the defensive mentality via AD, Bron, Caruso, Matthews, and KCP I think they’ll be a wonderful two-way team whose identity isn’t exactly what it was this past seaosn, but will have enough intact to make a serious run at repeating. Which is what it’s all about, right?