The Sixers signed free-agent big man Montrezl Harrell on Tuesday afternoon, a source confirmed to The Painted Lines. According to Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia, the two-year deal is for the veteran minimum and includes a player option in the second year.
Harrell played for Doc Rivers and Sam Cassell in Los Angeles, winning the Sixth Man of the Year award with the Clippers in 2020. Harrell was also drafted by the Rockets. He played two seasons next to James Harden before being traded to the Clippers in the deal that sent Chris Paul to Houston.
Virtually all of Harrell’s shots come within 14 feet of the basket. So, don’t expect him to provide the spacing for a 5-out offense when Embiid is off the court. But, he’s a boon to offensive production. And the offense doesn’t have to be anything complicated for him to generate points. Over the last 3 seasons, Harrell’s teams have ranked in the top 25th percentile of points per possession with him serving as a roll man in the pick-and-roll, according to Synergy.
Staggering a facilitator like Harden next to Harrell makes for a second unit tandem to be bullish about. Throw a slasher like De’Anthony Melton on the weak side of the court, and you actually have some interesting dynamics in your non-Embiid lineups.
There’s always a downside, and Harrell is no exception in that regard. His teams have typically exhibited better defensive output when Harrell exits games. In fact, Rivers’ stubbornness in playing Harrell over Ivica Zubac even though the team’s defense against Nikola Jokic was notably worse with the former on the court famously contributed to his departure from Los Angeles following the Clippers’ shocking collapse in the NBA’s bubble in Orlando in 2020.
At 6-foot-7, Harrell is not a traditionally-sized big man. He also lacks the lateral athleticism to toggle through defensive rotations. His team is married to whichever defensive scheme is most favorable with him on the floor. The other four guys on the court will have to help make up for his inflexibility as the ball moves.
At the end of the day, Harrell’s job is to be a muscle on the offensive end of the floor. The Sixers will have to live with his issues on defense.
With Harrell’s marijuana charge reduced to a misdemeanor in recent days, the deal is something of a no-brainer for the Sixers. Harrell is in his prime, and not that far removed from being the most valuable bench player in the league. His value around the NBA has diminished for a reason. But, there’s very little risk in a minimum deal. The second year being a player option puts the chip on Harrell’s shoulder to get himself paid next offseason. So, he’ll have numerous motivators to give the Sixers his all night in and night out.
Harrell’s salary in 2022-23 is $2,463,490, according to estimates provided by RealGM. Harrell has more than 3 years of experience and is signed to a 2-year deal. So, the full amount of his salary counts towards the Sixers’ space below the apron. So, Philadelphia has $764,788 below the tax apron after the signing. But, the Sixers have 17 players to fill 15 roster spots. So, Daryl Morey and company have decisions to make in the near future.
The signing obviously won’t be met with universal satisfaction. The fans want to see the younger, more athletic, and more undefined Paul Reed and Charles Bassey behind Embiid. Adding a more experienced center to the mix — and one that has history with Rivers, at that — only threatens any opportunities Reed and Bassey will receive.
That dissatisfaction is understandable. But, the fans might feel differently when Embiid misses games. Inexperienced centers commit handfuls of foul, if nothing else. Asking Reed and Bassey to carry that responsibility is probably more idealistic than realistic. Forcing Tucker to play significant minutes behind Embiid, in addition to his regular duties at power forward, will likely reach a point of diminished returns as the season progresses.
Ultimately, Harrell is in Philly because he has pre-existing connections to some of the organization’s prominent figures and the Sixers evidently don’t trust the youngsters and Tucker to effectively relieve Embiid by committee. It’s a fine edition for the regular season. But, Rivers has to learn from his own mistakes come playoff time.