The Los Angeles Clippers seem to have a clear modus operandi this summer. Add as many guards as possible to their roster and have them duke it out for minutes. After rumors of an impending waiving of Milos Teodosic before his $6.3 million contract was guaranteed on July 15, the date passed, and Milos is now a part of the team for the 2018-19 season.
Along with the two-year, $25 million contract given to Avery Bradley and the combined $6.19 million given to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Mike Scott on one-year deals, the Clips’ money is running out fast. What this means, is that there is less money to re-sign one of the best bench players in the league last season in Montrezl Harrell.
Harrell was considered an afterthought of the trade that sent Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets. After all, the Clippers did get their 2017-18 leading scorer in Lou Williams, starting point guard Patrick Beverley, and a first round, top three protected pick (didn’t end up being used) out of the trade. Along with Sam Dekker, Harrell was just a throw-in to make the trade fair.
After all, the Clips were giving up the franchise’s best all-time player and basically waving a white flag for Western Conference contention by doing so. Why not get some young guys right? Harrell, however, quickly made people quickly forget about the “afterthought” label.
Last season, Harrell set career highs in points, averaging 11.0 a game, and rebounds with 4.0 a game. He also tied a career high in blocks (.7) and averaged an impressive 63.5 percent from the field. The crazy part of all of this? He only averaged 17 minutes a game. Per 36, those stats balloon to 23.3 points and 8.0 rebounds a game. Did I mention that Harrell is still on his rookie deal? He’s only 24!
Harrell was ridiculously effective last year. For the season, he finished third in the league in effective shooting percentage and eighth in true shooting percentage. He did this in a limited bench role behind both Deandre Jordan, Blake Griffin, and for a time Willie Reed as well. By the end of the year, after Griffin and Reed were both traded to the Detroit Pistons, Harrell was a consistent double-digit scorer and brought huge energy off the bench.
From February 1 – April 11, Trez averaged 14.3 points and 4.1 rebounds a game. He also averaged a team-leading 65 percent shooting from the field. He constantly killed teams second unit forwards and centers with speed in the paint, excellent finishing ability, surprising mid-range ability, and athleticism. He was always exciting to watch and was a fan favorite this season.
The only reason we didn’t see more of Montrezl this season was due to his size. Because of his 6’8” stature, he had a little bit of difficulty guarding true centers and taller power forwards. He would get burned on the boards sometimes and had a knack for racking up fouls due to battling inside. What he brought in energy on the defensive end, sometimes turned sloppy.
However, Trez has good defensive instincts and got his hands in a lot of passing lanes this year. Where he lacks in size he makes up for in toughness and quick hands. He set a career high in steals this year with half a steal a game and had six games in which he picked off two or more. With more time in the league, I can see these instincts improving even more and given his energy output, his potential on the defensive end is through the roof.
Given all of this, however, Harrell is still not guaranteed to be a Clipper next year. The Clips have Harrell’s restricted bird rights. Essentially, he is a restricted free agent which means the Clippers can match any offer that is thrown Trez’s way. Currently, Trez’s contract is structured as a three-year deal with a fourth-year team option. If the Clippers don’t field any offers from other teams (which will not happen) and don’t restructure his deal, he would be making $1,744,951 this season. Given the way Harrell played this season, and now that unrestricted free agent signings have slowed down, teams will start knocking on Harrell’s door.
In my opinion, what the Clippers are doing here are playing a waiting game. They are seeing how teams value Harrell for the future. The scary part about this is that the Clippers don’t have cap space. Like, absolutely none. They are currently $13,076,368 million in the hole. With Milo’s contract becoming guaranteed, the Clippers now have 17 players receiving money from the franchise. The only money left over now is basically half of the mid-level exception. The Clippers have already used this exception on Luc Richard Mbah a Moute this summer and are not allowed to use it twice in one offseason.
Where does that leave us? Well, it means that if Harrell gets an offer from another team the Clips are going to have to move quickly, (they get 48 hours to match any qualifying offer) to obtain cap space. Lucas Hann, a writer for the SB Nation Clippers blog, Clips Nation, tweeted this out below and it sounds like the best solution:
Cuts: C.J., Dekker, Jawun
Slide Wes to backup PF and use Sindarius as emergency SF
PG: Bev, SGA, Milos
SG: Bradley, Lou, Jerome
SF: Gallo, Luc, Sindarius
PF: Tobias, Scott, WeJo
C: Gortat, Harrell, Boban
Two-ways: Wallace (QO), Delgado
— Lucas (system player) (@LucasJHann) July 16, 2018
Some cuts are going to be made to keep Harrell if they do indeed want to keep him. Cutting fringe guys like CJ Williams, Sam Dekker, and Juwan Evans makes the most sense and clears up $5,516,579 million. That $5.5 million would probably keep Trez in a Clippers uniform for one or maybe two years considering he’s nearly making $2 million now. It would also still not be enough to get the Clips out of the luxury tax but the owner, Steve Ballmer, has never shied in paying it.
I would be surprised if a team doesn’t offer more than that. Trez beasted some teams this year, including scoring 25 points against the Sacramento Kings who have oodles of cap space. It’s a scary situation for Clippers fans who love Harrell, including the writer currently typing this. The next few days/weeks will be interesting for the Clippers front office and Harrell.
Do the Clippers value a young, energetic big man who just had the best season of his career over some of the other, less effective players on the team? With the current clog of guards on the roster, I wouldn’t be surprised if some cuts happen and we keep Trez, but who knows what is going on in Jerry West or Steve Ballmer’s heads right now. Fingers crossed Clipper fans.