If you ask his teammates and the Clippers faithful, Montrezl Harrell's ascension comes as no surprise. His hard-nosed style of play coupled with an underdog drive has made him a Clipper favorite.
After he was sent from Houston to Los Angeles as part of the Chris Paul trade in the summer of 2017, Harrell became an instant spark off the bench. But this season, he's become more than just a shot of life for the Clippers. He's someone that the team needs in order to fulfill its lofty goals.
"Trez is a dude that goes everywhere and plays basketball," Clippers guard Patrick Beverley told Sporting News. "He just loves to hoop. I was with him when he was a pup (in Houston). And he was the same way. Summer time you really can't catch him because he's here hooping. He works on his one-on-one game a lot, almost like a guard. So, it's not a shock what we've seen with the results."
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Harrell is enjoying a career year as the Clippers have arrived in the spotlight. He's on pace to finish the year with career highs in points (19.4 per game) and rebounds (7.3 per game). His presence, along with three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, gives the Clippers the highest-scoring best bench unit in the league.
It's been a long road for Harrell since he was included in that Paul trade package nearly three years ago. There was a moment when coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers were unsure if he would even be on the roster. But as has been the case with Harrell throughout his career, he proved the doubters wrong.
"He just keeps getting better," Rivers told Sporting News. "The first year he was just playing some minutes and playing hard. The second year we got him involved in some actions, and now he's a post player. Without a pick-and-roll. He's been fantastic."
As the 2019-20 season has progressed, Harrell continues to show that he's more than just a pick-and-roll player who relies on Williams to create shots. He has improved his face-up and back-to-the-basket game, and he’s been able to take slower bigs off the dribble.
— Box Out TV (@BoxOutTV) January 5, 2020
He has also made strides with his passing, especially with his reads as a roll man.
Another clip of Harrell passing here. Slips the screen with the Knicks jumping out vs. LouWill. We talk about gravity but you can see Harrell's here, three Knick defenders coming in to help. Looks corner then hits Shamet for 3. An important pass for rolling bigs to make. pic.twitter.com/K7CQzKjfY8
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) January 6, 2020
Harrell’s emergence does create questions for the Clippers, however.
The former Louisville star is in the final year of a two-year contract with the Clippers and will enter unrestricted free agency this summer. Considering he only makes $6 million per year on his current deal, Harrell is in line for a massive raise.
With an unimpressive class of free agents set to hit the open market in 2020, Harrell could receive offers starting at around $20 million annually. It's not out of the question that Harrell could land in the four-year, $100 million range. Knowing that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George ($70 million combined in 2020-21) are already on the books, the Clippers will have to think long and hard about whether they're willing to go all-in on Harrell.
On one hand, he's a large reason why the Clippers have been able to turn around their organization in such a short amount of time. Harrell and Beverley are largely credited with bringing a toughness to the organization that was lacking during the "Lob City" era. His production has increased each year, and his grit and hustle cannot be measured.
But there are limitations to his game. He's undersized for a center. At 6-7, he struggles to match up against some of the more formidable bigs in the game — think Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid. He's not an elite rebounder, and he doesn't strike fear into opponents as a rim protector.
Offensively, he's done most of his damage against second units. How will he fare against starters, particularly in a tight playoff series?
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The questions surrounding Harrell's game are the reason for the chatter regarding a potential trade prior to the Feb. 6 deadline. ESPN insiders Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe mentioned Harrell as a possible trade or free-agency target for the Mavericks on a recent episode of the "Woj & Lowe" show, though there doesn't seem to be much intel suggesting the Clippers would like to move the soon-to-be 26-year-old.
If the Clippers are willing to pay Harrell his asking price this summer, the conversation is easy. Harrell gets paid, and the Clippers lock up a budding star for the foreseeable future. It's a win-win situation.
But if the Clippers draw a line in the sand, losing Harrell for nothing would be painful. In that scenario, a trade is much more realistic. There are teams that could use Harrell's services, and the Clippers would receive some decent pieces in return.
In all likelihood, the Clippers will stay loyal to Harrell. They're in win-now mode. What kind of message would a trade of Harrell send to Leonard and George, two guys who both signed two-year deals this offseason?
Regardless of what happens over the coming months, one thing is clear: Harrell has made himself into more than just an energy player off the bench.
Harrell will get paid this offseason. But will he remain in Los Angeles?