The former 2020 NBA Kia 6th Man of the Year, Montrezl Harrell, a Tarboro, North Carolina native, truly sounds thrilled to have landed in Philly. When you listen to him talk about playing for his new squad, it almost makes the whole thing sound like it was inevitable.
The second pick of the second round (no. 32 overall) in the 2015 NBA draft, the Louisville product slid because he was considered undersized for a big. Here was what Jason Patt wrote for SB Nation at the time regarding Trez:
“Standing at under 6’8, Harrell is a bit undersized for a power forward, and he doesn’t offer much offense outside the paint. However, his wingspan is over 7’4, and his athleticism and motor make him a terror around the basket. The lack of offensive skills may limit his upside, but he could provide value as a hustle player on both ends of the floor.
Harrell can fit in right away in Houston, especially on defense, inside the three-point line.”
Daryl Morey selected him so he got to play a couple seasons under Philadelphia’s team president, and alongside a then perennial MVP candidate in James Harden. Harrell was shipped to L.A. in the Chris Paul blockbuster, where he got to play for Doc Rivers and alongside Tobias Harris.
Some of his best ball came under Doc with those Clippers, and Harrell recalls the coach who helped him reach his stride.
“It was definitely an opportunity for me to get back with a coaching staff that I’m used to,” Harrell admitted at Media Day last week. “Coaching staff that I’ve been under. Doc was the one who actually gave me my opportunity to be able to come along as a player in this league, really,” continued the seven-year vet.
Many fans assume Harrell will absorb the lion’s share of backup center minutes when Joel Embiid needs a rest, although we’re not counting Paul Reed out either.
The Sixers’ Paul Reed is serving as Joel Embiid’s backup — and even he’s a bit surprised https://t.co/aYFvEdbe0P via @phillyinquirer— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) October 4, 2022
And P.J. Tucker, naturally, deserves chances at the role as well, since his shooting might give the Sixers a modern small-ball look with more spacing. That was something the 2020 Rockets tried with some success.
But Harrell probably represents the best roll-man and lob threat to unlock that element of The Beard’s game. Still, with some stiff competition for playing time, Harrell knows he may have to separate himself.
“Basically [working on] all of the little things that I continue to do well,” Harrell said. “Finishing around the basket, shooting 15 to 18 [footers] consistently, corner threes, ball handling....Honestly, I just build my game as a complete player. I literally do all the things that I feel are going to keep me around this game, so shooting is definitely one, ball handling, and making sure that I’m in the best shape of my life.”
You may not have expected him to say that, since he’s not known as a marksmen. He’s only made nine career threes, so the idea of him jacking corner treys this campaign would probably raise some eyebrows. But he has been practicing them.
And it sounds like he’s already heard about the ongoing tampering investigation the NBA is conducting around that Tucker signing (remember Keith Pompey reported it like weeks before it went down). Harrell showed a sense of humor when asked about what role his former teammate may have had in recruiting him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, man,” Harrell laughed. “I think that’s called tampering. Ain’t that a rule or something like that? I don’t have no clue, man. I really have no clue. (Laughs) But it’s good to be back in a situation with familiar guys that I’m used to.”
We wondered if the team would opt to roll with Reed and Charles Bassey, or sign a vet like Hassan Whiteside. But it sounds like Harden and Harris lit Harrell’s phone up once they knew this signing was imminent.
“The last couple of days leading up to it, he definitely started calling a little bit. (Laughs) I think I talked to him and Tobias a little bit, but that was already basically set in stone,” he said. “They kind of knew it was about to happen, really. But like I said, it feels good to get back with familiar guys that I’ve been around for a while.”
The next thing we had to know about, was where Harrell and Joel Embiid stand with each other? We remember from last season, Embiid gave a big welcoming hug to Andre Drummond, a guy he’s had a colorful history with. So after a little scuffle last holiday season, we wondered if the two had addressed the matter.
“No, we haven’t,” admitted the former Cardinal. “That’s the crazy thing about it. We haven’t, because I think we both understand that it’s the competitive nature. It’s the passion that we both have towards the game and the will to want to be able to put our team in position to win. At that point in time, we were rival competitors going against each other. … We basically just bumped heads. That’s the type of person you’d want to be sharing the floor with, definitely, because it shows that this guy is built towards winning. He wants to win, he’d do anything to put his team in position to win, no matter who it’s against. I think that basically shows a sign of respect.”
We already caught a glimpse of the kind of dawg that Harrell can be in the preseason opener.
Montrezl Harrell Full Highlight Reel I 10 points in 12 minutes I Sixers vs Nets Preseason— MRCROCKPOT TPL (@mrcrockpot) October 4, 2022
Came away VERY impressed with Harrell last night, his PnR skills & offensive potential rolling to the basket alongside James Harden is very intriguing#Sixers #HereTheyCome #MontrezlHarell pic.twitter.com/XIXFXFS9Zg
One of my favorite low key moments was when Royce O’Neal fouled him hard and tried to help him up but Trez was having none of it, flailing his arm out of the way and jawing.
If his history with Doc, history with few current Sixers, Morey, and the team’s expressed need for toughness hasn’t tipped off your “too many synergies not to happen” radar just yet, there’s more. Like P.J. Tucker, he’s a sneaker head, and apparently, a massive Allen Iverson fan.
“People don’t know that I actually was with Reebok for like a year and a half, so that definitely was a big reason with wearing those (Questions and Answers),” Trez explained.
“I’m a fan of Iverson’s. Not only what he’s done for the game, man, but the person he is. The trials and tribulations he had to overcome as a person, it’s a full testament to his whole story,” explained the 28 year old veteran. “Even when I signed here, I actually did get a phone call from [Iverson], man. That’s crazy. I’ve seen my phone and I instantly kind of knew it was him off the voice. That was big. It just shows the people that actually put this uniform on, come through here and were once a Sixer will always be a Sixer — that’s big. It’s just a huge honor, really. I’ve got something later over here for the City Edition uniform, so I’ve got a couple of special Iverson’s that have never been seen and won’t ever be seen.”
No doubt, we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for those kicks. Between Tucker, Reed, and Harrell, there should be some fierce competition, and depth at backup big. That’s refreshing. And all three may be able to slide in at the four as well, so maybe they’ll overlap. But we expect Harrell to get ample opportunity to prove himself and get back to playing the type of hoops he played under Doc just a few years ago.