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June 21, 2023

Sixers' Montrezl Harrell to decline player option for 2023-24

The Sixers opened up a little bit of salary as their backup big man moved on.

Backup Sixers big man Montrezl Harrell is declining his player option for the 2023-24 season, a source confirmed to PhillyVoice on Wednesday morning, a minor move that gives the Sixers the tiniest boost in flexibility heading into free agency. Turner's Chris Haynes was the first to report the news on Wednesday.

A late-offseason addition to the Sixers last season, Harrell was brought in as a veteran alternative to what would have been a youth movement behind Joel Embiid at center. Despite some promising flashes from Charles Bassey and Paul Reed, it was unclear how much either player could be trusted as a full-time backup to their franchise player. Previous head coach Doc Rivers had shown reluctance to trust Reed specifically — we weren't on a victory tour quite yet — and Harrell had familiarity with the head coach and several Sixers players, most notably James Harden.

While Harrell arrived with some issues to sort out, he felt like a reasonable flier for the team at the time as someone who might benefit from Harden's playmaking on the second unit. As has been the case throughout his career, Harrell showed some early flashes of activity on the offensive glass and had a fairly firm hold on the backup center job up until early February, when Rivers decided to go to Reed for good. It had been well past time to move on from Harrell by that point, as his defensive limitations were compounded by a continued slide in his finishing ability. Harrell had the second-worst finishing season of his career last season, taking away what would have been his point of separation from the younger, more athletic Reed.

The choice to give Harrell a player option is one that looked like it could bite the Sixers if Harrell had simply opted in, which was a decision that was left to deadline day. There were multiple problems for Philadelphia if Harrell had decided to opt in before Wednesday's deadline:

  1. Using a roster spot on a big man who should basically never play for the team would not have been a wise use of resources. The Sixers can now (hopefully, anyway) spend on a player who makes more present-day sense on the roster, and could even go in with a two-big plan while trying to add another guard or wing
  2. It's likely that the Sixers will be able to replace Harrell with a minimum player on a smaller cap number for next season, and with the second apron looming as a team-building barrier, every dollar saved makes a slight bit of difference

With this decision made, the Sixers have at least a semi-interesting thing to consider in the offseason, which is how much "protection" they want to leave behind Embiid. Though P.J. Tucker was signed last offseason with small-ball center minutes as part of the plan, Doc Rivers proved reluctant to use him too much in that role to protect him against wear-and-tear issues. With Reed growing into the role, there's a small bit of upside to keeping just two bigs on the roster if they can pluck a two-way contributor elsewhere. The risk is that they would be exposed if/when Embiid misses any time, and would rely on getting productive/impactful minutes out of a non-big in a backup role.

In any case, we'll see where Harrell ends up next. The Sixers will be down a colorful voice in the locker room and a boisterous presence on the floor, but it was best for both parties to move in a different direction.

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