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 realises 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 on Monday. “Of course, I still have great respect for those guys and for that organisation. 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 six-foot-seven 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 Los Angeles’ 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.