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July 07, 2023

Sixers to bring back center Montrezl Harrell on one-year deal

Montrezl Harrell is returning to the Sixers on a one-year deal for the league minimum. How does the move affect the team?

The Sixers are bringing big man Montrezl Harrell back on a one-year deal, a source confirmed to PhillyVoice on Thursday evening, following reporting from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Harrell's deal is for the minimum and is fully guaranteed, according to a source.

This is the first move of Philadelphia's offseason that qualifies as a genuine curveball and inspires some further questions about the plan in place for this summer. 

After signing with Philadelphia last offseason on a deal that included a player option, Harrell declined the second year of his deal in what looked like a move to pursue playing time elsewhere. Frankly, you could argue it would have benefitted the Sixers if he had done so, as the option decision looked to be a win on multiple fronts — the Sixers had evaded giving him guaranteed money and could pursue a backup big man with a little more immediate upside and impact. We can argue about the impact portion, but new signee Mo Bamba at least offered something on the upside front.

Ultimately, it's the lack of both from Harrell that makes this a confusing decision. Harrell manned the backup five behind Joel Embiid for most of the middle portion of the 2022-23 season, and while he had brief flashes of the same activity and finishing ability that made him a menace at his peak, Harrell's defensive limitations largely undermined whatever he was able to produce on the other end. And it's worth noting that Harrell had the worst finishing season of his career in Philadelphia, despite being able to link up with an old partner in crime, James Harden, in the pick-and-roll. He has continued to be a non-entity as a shooter outside of the paint, and while he sticks to the types of shots he knows he's good at, the inability to space the floor has made the dwindling of his finishing talent that much more meaningful.

If Philadelphia was getting the Harrell we saw during his peak years in Los Angeles, no one would have to think twice about a minimum deal. But Harrell's slide in recent seasons has been significant, and Paul Reed fully cemented himself as a credible backup option to Embiid down the stretch of last season. That inspires several questions, some of which the Sixers had answers for late on Thursday evening.

Are the Sixers going to bring Paul Reed back, and do they want to? As of now, the team is insisting they still have a desire to bring Reed back. But that would put them in the strange position of potentially carrying four big men on the active roster, which feels like a waste of resources on a team built around a center who will play 36-38 minutes per game. Even factoring in time out for Embiid due to injuries or rest, or gadget minutes for Reed at power forward, it feels gratuitous. So now you're in a position where the return of a better player in Reed is a questionable follow-up choice, which is suboptimal to say the least.

In any case, you can say "We have a desire to bring back Paul" until you're blue in the face, but the Sixers brought back Harrell and another big man who would compete with him for minutes before the dust settled on Reed. We'll see what the rest of their actions say, and what Reed can get on the open market.

Does this say anything about James Harden's situation? It is particularly noteworthy that Harden had a hand in Harrell coming to Philadelphia in the first place, with Doc Rivers not-so-subtly hinting at players preferring Harrell to Reed as the backup five early in the season. Up to this point, the Sixers have at least postured as though they're willing to hold onto Harden and run it back next year if no better options emerge, and perhaps this is something like an olive branch to Harden if he still had interest in rolling with Trez.

What was the point of opting out? Harrell receives a small bump in salary as a result of the cap jump and no guarantee he was getting a follow-up deal. The Sixers save some money against the cap/luxury tax on this deal vs. the player option deal, but that seems immaterial compared to the fact that Harrell is returning and has to play a role for the team (or at the very least, take up a roster spot).

It's always important to note that teams have the entire offseason to reshape their team, so a few minimum signings in early July aren't necessarily going to make or break the roster. The problem up to this point is that those moves are the totality of Philadelphia's offseason work, and this latest move doesn't seem to address any problems for the Sixers. The Sixers hoped for a bounceback year from Harrell last year, and he continued trending downward. Taking a second crack at that same gamble is a strange choice and one we'll need more answers on later.

This story is developing...

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