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2020 Hornets free agent forum: Montrezl Harrell

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Should the Hornets pursue the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year? Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 2020 Hornets Free Agent Forum where each week I will profile a potential 2020 free agent target for the Charlotte Hornets. Most of the players I’ll highlight will be unrestricted free agents (list here) whose ages and skill sets fit nicely with a young, up-and-coming Hornets roster. Feel free to engage in the comments because what makes free agency so fun to debate is it’s not just about the player, it’s also about roster construction, cap usage, and culture.

Player: Montrezl Harrell, PF/C

Age: 26

Height: 6’7”

Standing reach: 9’1”

2020 stats: 27.8 MPG, 18.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.1 BPG, 58.0% FG

Estimated market value: $8-$12 million per season according to The Athletic.

Since this is the first of several free agent profiles to come I’ll kick things off this week by dropping the hammer and making my intentions crystal clear:

If I was general manager of the Charlotte Hornets, I’d make signing Montrezl Harrell my top offseason priority.

The reigning Sixth Man of the Year would fit nicely with the Hornets roster. On offense he’s a superb rim runner who could thrive in pick-and-roll situations with either Devonte’ Graham or Terry Rozier. In 2019-20 he ranked 16th of 74 players in the NBA in pick-and-roll scoring efficiency (min. 15% pick-and-roll frequency). Over the last two seasons he has averaged 17.5 points per game while shooting an absurd 59.8 percent from the floor. Charlotte has lacked post scoring for years and Harrell’s ability to find the rim could open up the offense.

Defensively Harrell would give the Hornets some veteran experience, toughness, and frankly some attitude they’ve been missing. Don’t let his 6’7” height fool you into thinking Harrell’s undersized to a fault. His standing reach of 9’1” is more on par with players who are 6’10” or 6”11” (yes, I’m continuing my crusade of measuring players by standing reach) and exceeds Cody Zeller’s reach by three inches. He’s a good enough rebounder and has averaged 1.3 blocks per game over the last two seasons. Harrel struggles at times defending true post centers, but it cuts both ways as his speed and athleticism pose problems for traditional bigs.

From a roster construction standpoint he would fit nicely alongside the Core Four of Graham, Rozier, Miles Bridges, and PJ Washington. Harrell’s presence wouldn’t suck developmental minutes away from younger players and would facilitate Washington’s ability to play his natural stretch four position. When the Hornets need to go big, putting Harrel at the four and Cody Zeller at the five is a workable defensive combination, though the lack of outside shooting from both big men would gum up the offense.

Now, Montrezl had a disappointing postseason for the Los Angeles Clippers this year after returning late to the bubble following the death of his grandmother. He had a “heated exchange” with Paul George on the bench during a playoff game and was part of a pretty toxic Clippers culture. He struggled to guard both Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic in the postseason. But guess what? That’s great news for the Hornets! All this has done is drive down his price on the open market!

Paul George deserved to be confronted for his lackluster play. The Clippers front office catering to George and Kawhi Leonard destroyed team chemistry, not Montrezl. And please find me any player in the NBA who can lock down Porzingis or Jokic in a season in which both players lit the league on fire. Don’t let 13 subpar playoff games against two bad matchups change the fact that he has been a difference maker over his last 145 regular season games. In the 2019 playoffs he averaged 18.3 points per game on 73 percent shooting (!!!) with 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in six games.

Harrell’s poor showing in a small number of playoff games in the midst of a pandemic put his market value at $8-$12 million per The Athletic which I think would be one of the biggest bargains in the NBA. Heck, I’d give Harrel a $12-$15 million per year contract in a heartbeat. Even a $15 million average salary would put him at No. 88 per Spotrac and be consistent with power forward/centers like Jonas Valanciunas, Bobby Portis, Thaddeus Young, James Johnson, Marcus Morris, Gorgui Dieng, and Ian Mihinmi.

From a cap perspective, Spotrac shows Charlotte as having $28 million in “practical cap space” going into this offseason. A year from now the team will have shed Nic Batum’s albatross $27 million salary and Cody Zeller’s $15.5 million cap hit. Even if Charlotte added Montrezl Harrell at $12-$15 million per season, they will have ample cap room going into 2021-22 and can use Bird Rights to exceed the salary cap to re-sign the Core Four when their contracts expire. The great unknown of the COVID pandemic is how much the salary cap will be lowered, but this uncertainty will only bolster the ability for teams with clean cap sheets like the Hornets to sign their key targets. Other teams will likely shy away from larger contracts or unload more expensive players to avoid the luxury tax.

On a personal note, Montrezl is from North Carolina and played college ball with Terry Rozier at Louisville, so maybe that would make Charlotte a more desirable destination than most top-tier free agents view it. There are only a small number of free agents who become available every year with the combination of Harrell’s age, impact, upside, and salary.

There will always be a contingent of Hornets fans who want to “keep the powder dry” and preserve cap space to offer a max contract to a perennial All-Star. But at some point, cap space needs to turn into actual players. Anthony Davis isn’t coming to Charlotte, and neither will Giannis Antetokounmpo. The team couldn’t keep Kemba Walker. The Hornets need to turn this franchise into a desirable destination before stars will sign here. Signing an impact player like Montrezl Harrell, nailing the No. 3 pick in the draft, and making the playoffs next year is a step in the right direction.

The Hornets have to start somewhere. If I ran the team, I’d start by landing Montrezl Harrell.


If you were GM, would you sign Montrezl Harrell to a deal with an average salary of $12-$15 million?

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