Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news before Adrian Wojnarowski released details of Harrell’s contract. He will receive $19 million over two seasons, a figure much lower than many expected him to receive before the NBA‘s mid-season hiatus.
This followed news that Dwight Howard was swapping purple and gold for the City of Brotherly Love. Howard will be backing up Joel Embiid and Markieff Morris is a free agent. The Lakers’ frontcourt rotation had been depleted. The Harrell signing came from nowhere – it’s the biggest surprise of this offseason to date. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year will likely continue to come off the bench, playing the five alongside Anthony Davis and occasionally operating as the lone big in smaller line-ups with LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma.
Despite limited financial flexibility, the Lakers had options in free agency after trading for Dennis Schroder. They always have players willing to move to Staples Center. Harrell was not thought to be one of those players. Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and others had been floated as veteran big man additions, but Harrell seemed destined to re-sign with the Clippers (even if his salary was then used in a trade).
Standing at 6’7, Harrell isn’t an obvious Howard replacement. Howard was used sparingly, his size important defensively and he wrestled in rebounds at both ends. Harrell isn’t the same big body to throw at Nikola Jokic, Embiid or Karl-Anthony Towns, but his offensive skillset is similar. Howard and JaVale McGee set screens and threw down lobs on offence last year. Harrell’s role will be much the same, though he has a better off-the-bounce and post-up game than McGee and Howard that the Lakers will use on occasion.
Harrell’s offensive impact
The Harrell and Lou Williams pick-and-roll has been a staple of the Clippers’ offence. Lacking pick-and-roll ball handlers, the Clips perhaps didn’t use Harrell in such sets enough. He was among the most efficient players in the league when rolling to the basket.
Expect to see a lot of Harrell and LeBron pick and rolls. James is a master at twisting defences to his desire, and the hard-rolling Harrell only helps with that. He will get plenty of easy points off James’ passes.
Harrell also brings great hustle on the offensive boards, something the Lakers excelled in last season. Despite primarily being a bench player, the former Rocket ranked 14th in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game.
While he can improve the Lakers offensively, there are understandable concerns about Harrell defensively. He was embarrassed at times in the playoffs. His size means he cannot battle in the post with the league’s best big men, forcing that assignment to Davis.
Harrell is a subpar defender, and can be an outright liability if forced to deal with fives. Davis can compensate for many of his weaknesses on that end of the floor, but there are going to be certain matchups where he is unplayable.
If the Lakers want to switch, Harrell can do a bit of it, but he’s not as versatile on the defensive end as Morris and he’s going to get picked on by Jokic if the Nuggets and Lakers meet again.
Coming up Klutch
The cries of Klutch doing the Lakers a favour were inevitable when it became apparent Harrell was swapping sides in the battle for Los Angeles. Maybe he did take a lower salary to play with James and Davis, maybe he was desperate to stay in southern California and the Clippers didn’t want to pay him. He wouldn’t be the first player to prioritise Los Angeles lifestyle or playing on a contender.
Do the Lakers sign Harrell if he’s not represented by Klutch? That’s a question only Rob Pelinka can answer. There are other bigs out there who could have filled the void, but none who played like Harrell did in the 2019/20 regular season.
Harrell isn’t the perfect fit. He’s going to be a weak point defensively at times. When so much of the concern with the Lakers was their scoring beyond James and Davis, it’s hard not to like this though. In Harrell and Schroder, the Lakers have massively upgraded their third and fourth options. The defence is weaker, but how good will the offence be? The James and Harrell pick-and-roll gives them another go-to play, too.
The pressure was already on the Clippers. The Lakers snatching Harrell only cranks it up further.