A few years ago, Montrezl Harrell looked like he could be on his way to a very lucrative contract. In 2019, he finished third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting. He was pure energy on the offensive end. He crashed the glass and became an elite pick-and-roll finisher. But by the end of his tenure with the Clippers, the holes in his game were starting to show.
In 2020, the year leading into the free agency that was supposed to pay him big, he won Sixth Man of the Year but became a liability in the playoffs. His defense, many people argued, had reached unplayable levels in a postseason series, but Doc Rivers continued to run him out there and the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the bubble.
Harrell's value tanked at precisely the wrong time. Once a candidate for well north of a $50 million deal (that's conservative), he instead signed with the Lakers last offseason for $9.2 million, with a $9.7 million player option for 2021-22. The idea was that he'd lift his value this past season and forgo that player option to become a more sought-after free agent this summer.
But that didn't happen. He's still considered a playoff liability, even though the Lakers were forced to play him in their first-round loss to Phoenix because Anthony Davis was hurt and Andre Drummond proved equally problematic.
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Harrell can still opt out of his deal with the Lakers and take his chances on the open market when free agency begins on Aug. 6, but the prevailing thought is that no team is going to give Harrell an annual salary in excess of the $9.7 million player option he has with the Lakers. So it makes sense that Harrell, per Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, may be leaning toward opting in for the $9.7 million.
From there, the Lakers can either keep Harrell (perhaps depending on what they decide about retaining Marc Gasol and/or Drummond) as he tries, once again, to raise his value for another run at free agency in 2022, or they use him as a trade chip. The latter option feels more likely.
A trade would be a win-win: The Lakers get a player who can help, or even just a trade exception if Harrell goes to a team with cap space, while Harrell gets the $9.7 million that he likely couldn't get from an outside suitor. From there, hopefully, his new situation is one that can showcase his strengths rather than continually call attention to his weaknesses, which is what's going to happen with the Lakers as they can't afford to have him in a prominent role or even on the floor at all with such high stakes for their season.