Sixers shaking things up behind Embiid, adding Harrell on two-year deal originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Sixers are shaking things up at backup center.
The team is signing 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell to a two-year contract with a player option in Year 2, a source confirmed Tuesday afternoon to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Harrell's deal is for the minimum salary, the source said.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news of Harrell's signing.
Backup center has often been an important and uncertain position during the Joel Embiid era. Before adding Harrell, the trio of Paul Reed, P.J. Tucker and Charles Bassey appeared to be the team's main options behind the MVP runner-up. Reed was Embiid's top backup last postseason and had quite a few positive moments, though his chaotic instincts were not always conducive to head coach Doc Rivers feeling comfortable with him on the floor.
“I feel like these playoffs propelled me for next year in a lot of different ways," Reed said at his exit interview in May. “One way is I feel like I earned more of Doc’s trust. I feel like he wouldn’t be as scared to put me out there on the court.”
Rivers and Harrell already know each other well. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Louisville product averaged 15.2 points and 5.8 rebounds over his three seasons with the Clippers, developing into one of the NBA's top second-unit scorers.
While Harrell's minutes per game in the 2019-20 campaign dropped from 27.8 per game during the regular season to 18.7 during the playoffs, Rivers was widely criticized for playing him too much given the Clippers' superior performance with Ivica Zubac on the court.
Thanks to Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, Houston was Harrell's first professional stop. Taken 32nd by Morey in the 2015 draft, Harrell spent two years with the Rockets before moving to Los Angeles as part of a trade for Chris Paul. Of course, this won't be his first experience playing alongside James Harden.
Harrell played for both the Wizards and Hornets last season, posting 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest.
At his best, the 28-year-old changes games with his efficient scoring and can't-miss energy. Though Harrell rarely considers three-pointers and is a mediocre foul shooter (66.2 percent), he's been in the 90th percentile or higher among big men for points per shot attempt in all but one season of his career, per Cleaning the Glass. He recorded an excellent 138.2 points per 100 shot attempts with Washington, 135.9 with Charlotte.
Harrell isn't averse to trash talk and attempts to agitate his opponents. Dwight Howard was ejected from a Sixers-Lakers matchup after a back-and-forth with Harrell. On Dec. 26, 2021, Harrell was ejected following an altercation with Embiid. He wasn't pleased with how Embiid handled the exchange, telling reporters the five-time All-Star should "stand on your toughness."
The Sixers began last year playing a former Embiid rival behind him, rolling with Andre Drummond in most situations until dealing him to the Nets in their deal for Harden. They signed De'Andre Jordan in March and played the 34-year-old slightly under 31 total postseason minutes. Jordan started the Sixers' Embiid-less defeats in Games 1 and 2 of their second-round series to the Heat and the team was outscored by 31 points with him on the floor.
Rim protection is not Harrell's calling card by any means, but it's reasonable to assume he'd do better than Jordan in a spot where Embiid was sidelined by injury. But, if Harrell is still a Sixer when the playoffs arrive, we imagine Rivers would be wise to stay away from matchups that expose him defensively. We'll see where Reed, Tucker and Bassey now fall in the backup center mix and whether Rivers experiments early in the season to figure out effective bench lineups.
In August, Harrell had a felony charge of marijuana trafficking reduced to a misdemeanor possession charge, according to ESPN. Harrell pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor and will have it removed from his record after 12 months if he has no legal issues.