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In free agency’s first stunner, last season’s Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell has reportedly agreed to a two-year, $19 million deal to leave the Clippers for the Lakers. 

Harrell, 26, was a key piece of the Clippers’ bench, averaging a career-best 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in 27.8 minutes per game, and opted to change course, taking the full midlevel exception from the Lakers with a player option for 2021-22. It’s a spicy twist that adds juice to what should be an even more fascinating in-market rivalry. Let’s grade the deal.

LA Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (5) reacts after receiving a foul during the second half of game five against the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs

Grade: A

If it wasn’t clear already from the types of contracts being handed out, a serious bear market has emerged in the early hours of free agency. Watching Harrell, one of the better unrestricted players on the market, take the midlevel to join a contender ought to reset expectations a bit for nearly everyone left. 

NBA Free Agency Roundup: Every Signing So Far

The key wrinkle here is the fact Harrell’s agent is Rich Paul, who also represents a couple other Lakers you may know, and has enough equity with team brass to find a middle ground here. Harrell and his camp will presumably view this as a one-year deal (with the option as a pure insurance policy), and a major opportunity to raise his value as a member of the defending champions before testing free agency again next summer. I’d guess they preferred that to taking more money and more years to play in a losing situation, and to whatever the Clippers did or did not offer to keep him. Harrell is a rugged rebounder and one of the NBA’s most intense competitors, and should be an upgrade over Dwight Howard, who is headed to Philadelphia.

As the Lakers’ title run proved, it’s pretty easy to plug and play just about anyone alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and while Harrell has his shortcomings on the defensive end, L.A. wasn’t going to find a better player on the market at that price. When he shares the floor with Davis, his issues protecting the basket should be somewhat mitigated, and with JaVale McGee reportedly opting in to return, the Lakers will be able to rotate between smaller, uptempo looks that feature Harrell up front, as well as more defense-oriented lineups using McGee. As a rim-running, high-energy presence, Harrell is a far more dynamic offensive player than anyone the Lakers trotted out next to Davis up front last season, and they’re getting him at a bargain price. 

This is a good piece of business by both sides given how fickle the free agent market appears to be. And when the Lakers and Clippers play head to head, we’ll see how Harrell really feels about his departure.

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