Hornets have acquired Montrezl Harrell for Ish Smith and Vernon Carey Jr. in a trade

By Chase Whitney

February 10, 2022

Photo: Jacob Kupferman / AP

After two years of searching for a starting-caliber big man to pair with franchise point guard LaMelo Ball, Kupchak has traded Vernon Carey Jr., Ish Smith and a future second-round pick for Washington Wizards veteran center Montrezl Harrell.

Harrell, a Tarboro, North Carolina native, is averaging 14.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in 46 appearances (three starts) this season, shooting 64.5 percent from the field and 72.7 percent from the line. Per Cleaning The Glass, Harrell shoots 76 percent at the rim, good for the 86th percentile among centers. 

Primarily a reserve throughout his career, Harrell won the Sixth Man of the Year award with the LA Clippers in 2020. He was also once a teammate of Terry Rozier at Louisville. Harrell could slide into the Hornets starting rotation or come off the bench. A backup frontcourt featuring Harrell, Mason Plumlee or PJ Washington would be a significant improvement over what James Borrego has had at his disposal.

This trade probably won’t help the Hornets’ defense much; Harrell is, at best, equal to Plumlee as a rim protector, and is much smaller at 6-foot-7. However, Washington’s defense has been better with Harrell as the anchor (-5.4 points per 100 possessions) than Daniel Gafford this season (+3.6 points per 100 possessions), per Cleaning The Glass. Charlotte’s defense may not get “better” with this trade, but Harrell’s tenacity on the interior will be a welcome addition to a team that can get complacent at times defensively.

Kupchak essentially acquired Harrell without giving up a permanent rotation member. At full health, Smith was on the outside looking in, and Carey has only appeared in nine games between the NBA and G League this season (four with the Hornets, five with the Greensboro Swarm). Unfortunately, Smith’s homecoming didn’t last long in spite of him filling in admirably when he was needed this season.

Carey is guaranteed close to $1.8 million in 2022-23 while Smith and Harrell are both eligible to hit free agency after the 2021-22 season concludes, clearing a bit of money off the Hornets books for the summer. It’s never ideal to move on from an early second-round pick in the middle of his sophomore season, but Nick Richards has surpassed Carey in Borrego’s rotational hierarchy and the Hornets have Kai Jones and JT Thor waiting in the wings, too.

This trade also creates an open roster spot, which could be used to add a veteran ball-handler to replace Smith. The options on the buyout market will become clearer over the coming days as teams make roster cuts following the deadline, but Hornets fans likely already have an old friend in mind for that.

Check out the remaining 2021-22 Charlotte Hornets schedule.

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