If the Portland Trail Blazers have a hole in their revamped, 2019-20 roster, it comes at forward. Their guards are set. They’re double-stacked at center. They’ll need to slide shooting guards into the small forward slot to cover their deficiencies; God knows what they’re going to do at power forward.
Much of the off-season discussion has centered around Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. LaMarcus Aldridge of the San Antonio Spurs and Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons have also been thrown in the (pie in the sky) mix. There’s one forward the Blazers should be eyeing, however, a tough get who would have a dramatic effect on the lineup: Los Angeles Clippers energy booster Monrtezl Harrell.
Harrell stands 6’8, but plays bigger than his height. The Clippers have used him at center for the past two years. Power forward might be his more natural position. He averaged 16.6 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game last season, playing off the bench. He’s an active defender, an inside scorer in the old-school mold. He’s not the model of the NBA stretch four; 91% of his shots came within 10 feet of the hoop last season. His 61.5% shooting clip testifies to shot selection as much as skill.
The new-look Blazers wouldn’t necessarily be bothered by Harrell’s offensive limitations, though. They’re moving away from the three-point-dominant offense. Jusuf Nurkic will likely be tender after he returns from injury. It wouldn’t hurt his feelings to move more towards face-up jumpers and soft shots, leaving Harrell ample space to operate in the middle of the court.
High-octane drive would be the single best attribute that Harrell brought to the lineup. If the current generation of the Blazers has any fault, it’s a lack of grit. Portland’s players are smooth. As they’ve aged, they’ve headed towards polished. They showed resilience in last season’s playoffs victory over the Denver Nuggets. They still evoke the image of briefcases and fancy suits more than hard hats. Harrell’s take-no-prisoners style would be the secret ingredient that turned a fine dish into a five-star meal. His effect could be comparable to Buck Williams’ on the 1990-1992 Trail Blazers, pushing them over the top.
Harrell would be a tough get. The Clippers are aware of his value. Moving him is within the realm of possibility, though. They just got two new forwards by the name of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They should be excited about the possibility of running a “switch everything”, interchangeable defense, but they lack size and experience in the middle. If the experiment doesn’t work out as planned, Harrell would be a nice trade chip to call in veteran help.
Harrell is on the final year of his contract, making $6 million. The Clippers may opt not to re-sign him with so much salary already devoted to their frontcourt. Though that salary makes him tradeable for most teams, it presents problems for the Blazers.
The most obvious asset the Blazers could move to help L.A. would be Hassan Whiteside, made somewhat superfluous by Nurkic’s return. Any trade scenario would be predicated on the Clippers struggling and Whiteside excelling in Portland. L.A. would carry an incredibly intimidating frontcourt into the playoffs, fielding a true center, changing up their look radically.
Whiteside’s $27.1 million salary is the sticking point. Forget area code, that’s not even in the same solar system as Harrell. A two-team trade would have to involve Patrick Beverley and Maurice Harkless. That makes the ask tougher for the Clippers to accept. The Blazers could throw in Pau Gasol or Anthony Tolliver without much bother. They’d presumably waive Harkless, keeping Beverley for the playoffs run then looking to trade him over the summer. Draft picks for the Clippers would need to be in the discussion as well.
Multi-team trades are similarly problematic. Trying to match talent to salary in this exchange is tough. Manufacturing a deal in 2020-21, after Harrell has signed a bigger contract, is more likely.
If the Blazers could pull off this move, they’d end up with a fourth-year player capable of adding a wrinkle, and plenty of spark, to the rotation. Maybe Portland doesn’t get it done this season, but keep an eye on Harrell as a possible name to watch.