Montrezl Harrell‘s best friend is Lou Williams, his former teammate on the Los Angeles Clippers, and Harrell says he learned a lot from his buddy’s career.
For example: Williams, Harrell said, has never signed a contract for more than $10 million annually in 17 seasons. And he’s never been a consistent starter in the NBA.
But Williams is a three-time Sixth Man of the Year.
“He taught me early on that this game is going to have a lot of ups and a lot of downs,” Harrell said Wednesday, “but just don’t never let it get you too low.”
Williams’ path helped Harrell keep perspective last year during a challenging season with the Los Angeles Lakers when Harrell, a key free-agent signing months earlier, unexpectedly had his playing time cut after the Lakers added Andre Drummond on a midseason buyout.
The Lakers had three centers in Marc Gasol, Drummond and Harrell (four if you count Anthony Davis) — and while coach Frank Vogel juggled lineups to find the right fit, the situation left hardly any of them satisfied.
It was a situation that, in all honesty, might prepare Harrell for his time with the Wizards. After the Wizards acquired him in the Russell Westbrook deal, Harrell again lands on a roster that has two other legitimate centers: Daniel Gafford and Thomas Bryant. New coach Wes Unseld Jr. will have to balance minutes for a roster that’s deeper than last year when Washington’s three big man rotation surprisingly worked under Scott Brooks.
At 6-foot-7, Harrell is much smaller than the NBA’s typical center. But his lack of size is made up for by near-constant energy that provides a spark off the bench.
“Trez is a monster,” said guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who arrived with Harrell in the trade to Washington. “You can see it when he plays. He’s very passionate — when he plays.
“The situation he was in, in L.A. with the three bigs, it was tough on him. That would be tough on everybody, knowing your caliber of play, knowing the team could use you and you’re still not getting the type of minutes or the playing time that you want.”
Caldwell-Pope said Harrell handled it “as best as he could,” adding he sees an excited teammate eager to join the Wizards. With the Lakers, Harrell averaged 25.3 minutes per game prior to Drummond’s arrival — only for that number to drop to 17.8 afterward. He was a healthy scratch on three occasions, a trend that carried over to the playoffs when Harrell didn’t play in Games 2 and 3 against the Phoenix Suns. He averaged just 9.8 minutes per game in the postseason.
The shift in playing time was quite different from the year before, when Harrell emerged as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate with the Clippers. That season, Harrell scored a career-high 18.6 points per game and made for a lethal pick-and-roll player with Williams.
Despite the down year, Harrell ultimately exercised his $9.7 million player option at the end of the season.
If he had opted out, Harrell could have had more freedom over his next destination in free agency — rather than getting traded to the Wizards and dealing with another center log jam. But then again, $9.7 million is $9.7 million and there’s no guarantee Harrell would have gotten that on the open market.
As he spoke to reporters Wednesday, Harrell declined to say why he opted in and instead referred the question to his agent, Rich Paul. But the 2015 second-rounder seemed to embrace his role — whatever it might be.
“I’m just looking to come in here and get better, and do everything I can to help put this team in position to not only to make the playoffs, but shock a whole lot of people,” Harrell said.
Harrell said he learned “how to be a great teammate” with the Lakers.
“I feel like earlier in my career, I would have been upset,” Harrell said. “I would have been trying to figure out who I could cuss out to figure out why I wasn’t on the floor. But I figured out how to be a great teammate and really just cheer on the guys who are on the floor. … It was just making sure I stayed locked in.”