Before the Los Angeles Lakers took on the LA Clippers in both teams’ preseason opener on Friday night, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell went and spoke with two of his former teammates, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley, exchanging pleasantries with the two fellow reserves that he had so much individual success with during the last three seasons.
The rest of the players and personnel he spent the most significant portion of his NBA career with so far? Well, he went and spoke to them after the game, but didn’t take the extra steps down the Staples Center hallways, past his new spot in the Lakers’ locker room, to go to the Clippers’ locker room he called home last year. Harrell admitted after the game that he still has “a lot of emotions” about the team that he feels didn’t want him back.
“But nothing significant,” he made sure to add.
Even though it was just a preseason game, he trying to stay focused on his new job, with his new team.
“I came here with the mindset that I had a job to do tonight. I’m here with my team, which is the Los Angeles Lakers,” Harrell said. “This wasn’t a come out, ‘hey, how you guys doing?’ laughing it up. Nah. I had a job, and I have a mindset of what I came here to do.”
That’s what Harrell did, serving as a standout in the Lakers’ 87-81 win with 19 points and 9 rebounds while shooting 5-13 from the field. His tireless intensity popped off the screen in a game featuring plenty of players who won’t play regular minutes for either team, in addition to veterans clearly just trying to get their legs under them. But Harrell doesn’t have a medium setting. When he’s on the court, he’s all energy, all the time.
Attempting to make Harrell’s job harder — among others — was Beverley. Both the Lakers’ and Clippers’ benches were talking enough trash to the players on the court for it to be noticeable on the broadcast, but the moment that stood out most was Beverley, showing his characteristic complete lack of chill by celebrating a missed preseason jumper from Harrell like it was a late shot in a competitive game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
But Harrell didn’t let that — or Kawhi Leonard doing similar — bother him. He fired right back at the Clippers, memorably getting picked up by a particularly hot rim microphone screaming “Hell no, F— no” during a missed transition jumper from Terrence Mann.
Again, this was a preseason game.
But it’s not just some talent for laser-sharp focus from Harrell that allowed him to tune out Beverley’s constantly yapping. He’s been teammates with Beverley for years now, so in addition to seeing how he always is on the sidelines, he’s been playing against him in countless pick-up games and practices, and so he’s used to his former teammates’ fire.
“That doesn’t faze me, man. He’s the same Pat that used to be doing that when I would shoot and be on the other team (in scrimmages) with Lou and miss jump shots, or miss a layup or something like that, man. That doesn’t faze me, man. This is basketball,” Harrell said. “If we weren’t in a pandemic and it was a Clippers home game, the fans would be yelling at me and it wouldn’t be no different, man.
“I’m not worried about what Pat is doing on the sidelines. Everything that he’s doing on the sidelines… It’s not anything different than what I knew Pat brought to the table, but it doesn’t faze me,” Harrell continued. “I’m a basketball player, just like these guys are.”
Harrell and Beverley made it clear on Twitter that they’re cool after the game, but that doesn’t mean Harrell still has some great love for the Clippers. Most tellingly, in the final question Harrell took after the game, he was asked a softball about the development of the Clippers’ second-year players. Rather than doing what most players would do in that situation — spew a few cliches and keep it moving — Harrell wanted to take the moment to make the line between himself and the team he used to play for clear.
“No disrespect, but that’s not up to me to discuss. That’s not up to me to really give my opinion on,” Harrell said. “How they came along in their growth has nothing to do with me… Not to be disrespectful, but honestly I really don’t care. I’m not on a team with those guys anymore, and that’s not the locker room that I’m walking into. So how those guys are coming along in their growth or how they’re taking the next steps in their career really has nothing to do with me.
“I wish those guys the best of luck,” Harrell continued. “(But) We have young guys on our team that still have to grow. (Devontae) Cacok, Talen (Horton-Tucker) is a young guy, Kostas (Antetokounmpo) is a young guy. So we have young guys on our team that we have to grow as well. So like I said, what they have going on in their locker room is not up to me. I’m focused on where I am and my team.”
He was talking about the young guys there, but he could have just as easily also been talking about the Clippers as a whole, if you read that second part without knowing the question asked. But while Harrell may say he wants to move on, to focus on his new team, that may not always be possible. If a preseason game was already this chippy, a few more of the already characteristically charged regular season matchups between these two sides will probably leave him thinking about the Clippers quite a bit, too. And if this meaningless exhibition is any indication, Harrell’s edge in those matchups may prove to be quite the asset for his new teammates as they face off against the organization he clearly has no love lost for.