Los Angeles Clippers’ big man Montrezl Harrell was one of the breakout performers of the 2018-19 season. He routinely came off of the Los Angeles Clippers’ bench and took over games with his energy and relentless play. This season, he has brought that to another level. Lost in the shuffle of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is the Clippers’ depth behind their superstars. It is, after all, a team that made the playoffs with many of their current players and no superstars leading the way.
There could be a dark side to that, however. The Clippers are going to have to start paying affordable players like Harrell, or they could lose him for nothing. What they do with Harrell could show their true colors.
Montrezl Harrell’s rise with the Clippers
Harrell was a valuable player before last season, but not quite at that level. Starting with the Houston Rockets, the underrated Harrell played in a limited role before going to Los Angeles. During his first year as a Clipper, however, he put up 11 points per game and four rebounds as a role player off the bench.
Last season, as the Clippers looked to make a fresh start, his role expanded. Despite starting in only five of the 82 games he played in, Harrell put up an impressive 16 points and six rebounds per game. His energy next to stellar sixth man Lou Williams made the Clippers arguably scarier with their bench crew than their starters. Williams seemingly has a chokehold on the Sixth Man of the Year award, but Montrezl Harrell is a candidate in his own right.
That continued to this year, where Harrell is putting up even crazier numbers off the bench.
Harrell has taken his game to another level
With the additions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, one might expect Harrell’s role to grow smaller. That hasn’t been the case, however. Despite coming off the bench, he is playing nearly 30 minutes a game and improving his game in the process. Harrell and Williams continue to be one of the more ferocious duos to come off a bench in recent memory. They ensure that even if Leonard and George aren’t playing well (or not playing in games at all), the team needs to be taken seriously.
Montrezl Harrell is averaging 19 points and seven rebounds per game to go along with two assists and a block. Taking advantage of teammates who can clear out the lane for him, Clippers coach Doc Rivers has been able to get Harrell looks that he never got on less-talented teams, and in a rare feat of single-team depth, he and Williams might both compete for the Sixth Man award for this season.
All of this is great for the Clippers now, but the team also has to worry about their future. Harrell is set to become a free agent this season, and when he does, he will be making lots of money. With lots of money on the books already, the Clippers will have to decide whether Harrell can be a part of their plans.
What the Clippers do with Harrell will signal how they see themselves
Writing for HoopsHabit.com, Matthew Hallett posited that while the Clippers haven’t said they are going to trade Harrell, the team could do so if they don’t feel like they could keep him. Although he performs incredibly off the bench, Harrell could chase a larger role (and perhaps a larger contract) on another team, and if he did, the team would have a hard time filling that void.
For the production he provides, Montrezl Harrell is a bargain at $6 million per year. However, he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season. That means the Clippers could lose Harrell for nothing if he decides to chase more money with another franchise. That might prompt the franchise to trade him to ensure it gets some sort of return for him.
Should the team try to trade Harrell, they could get some excellent value for him as opposed to nothing. However, getting rid of him for the future, even if it meant risking his exit via free agency, would be a major loss to the Clippers’ current roster. If the Los Angeles Clippers want to win this year, they cannot afford to let Harrell go out of fear for next year.
Contracts like Harrell’s can be complicated for teams to navigate. Rings are the ultimate goal. Letting a valuable piece of the Clippers’ current roster would show that they care more about financial security in the future than the ability to win now. Hopefully, the silence surrounding the issue means that they are not thinking of doing anything drastic. If they did, the NBA could only wonder what the Clippers valued more — wins or money?