Fans might have missed out on a playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers, but the competition between the two franchises spilled into free agency with the Lakers signing Montrezl Harrell away from the Clippers.
Harrell, speaking to reporters Monday on a videoconference call for the first time since signing a two-year, $19 million contract to join the purple and gold, said that his former team helped make the decision for him.
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year winner was asked on the call whether the Clippers, the team he played for the past three seasons, wanted him back.
“I mean, that goes without saying,” Harrell, 26, responded. “Apparently not if I’m on the other side. So it is what it is, really.”
He was later asked whether he had wanted to return to the Clippers after averaging career highs in points (18.6) and rebounds (7.1) last season, coming off the bench in 61 of the 63 regular-season games he played.
“I feel that if you spend your career in any place long enough, you’re going to want to still keep playing there and keep growing there,” Harrell said. “So, of course I still have great respect for those guys and for that organization. But like I said, as far as they wanted me back, obviously it doesn’t seem that way, does it?”
Harrell’s new deal includes a player option for the 2021-22 season that will allow him to enter free agency in the summer of 2021 if he chooses to, when the free-agency market is expected to be more robust with teams flush with cap money to spend.
“Honestly, it’s a business decision,” he said when asked why he decided to play for the Lakers out of several teams vying for his services. “I felt that it was the right decision for me. I talked to my family and, you know, it’s where we decided I wanted to go. Simple as that. … I’m definitely going to be with a team that wanted me.”
The five-year veteran, selected by the Houston Rockets in the second round of the 2015 NBA draft, is represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, the same agent shared by the Lakers’ top two stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
While Harrell likened Klutch to “like a family,” he downplayed James’ and Davis’ influence on him choosing to play for the other team at Staples Center.
“As far as my decision, it didn’t have any effect, because at the end of the day, my decision doesn’t affect neither one of those guys’ lives as far as their living conditions,” he said. “I have a family I have to provide for, so my decision was my decision.”
On the other side of the coin, Harrell was asked what it was like to leave teammates like Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley, who he grouped with to keep the Clippers competitive as the franchise transitioned from its “Lob City” days with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to its new big two, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
“They understand the business,” Harrell said. “I learned the business from those guys, man. Guys like Lou who have been traded multiple times in one season, a guy like Pat who I played the majority of my career with, who I ended up being in a trade with. They understand and they basically taught me that this is a business no matter [what]. If you’re not one of our top-tier players in the league, which we all know who those players are, everybody is expendable.”
The Clippers were the betting favorites to win it all last season and now the defending champion Lakers hold that title — buoyed by Harrell’s addition, of course. Harrell, who will wear No. 15 for the Lakers, said that being on the other side of the city rivalry won’t be a difficult adjustment.
“I don’t think it’s going to be anything we have to switch, because at the end of the day, the game of basketball is our job,” Harrell said. “When I was playing for the Clippers, I gave it everything I had every night when I laced up my sneakers. And now that I’m here with the Los Angeles Lakers, that’s the same thing I’m going to do here.
“This is my job, and I’m blessed to be on a team that was strong enough and deep enough and have the talent enough to win the championship last year. So me just coming to the mix, I’m just trying to do anything I can to help them get back to that same place. Seeing as I wasn’t there last year and they won it, I’m just trying to come in and do what I can to help to repeat.”