Why Montrezl Harrell picked 76ers over Celtics in free agency

BOSTON — Before the Celtics signed Blake Griffin last month to help fill a void created by Rob Williams’ knee surgery, the team was in talks with another free agent center they faced off against on opening night: Montrezl Harrell.

Harrell agreed to a deal with the 76ers back on September 6 worth two years for the veteran’s minimum and included a player’s option for one year two of the contract.

In an exclusive interview on Tuesday, Harrell told MassLive that the Celtics were one of the top teams targeting him before he made the decision to sign with Philadelphia.

“We had talks,” Harrell said of Boston’s interest. “Honestly, it didn’t work out. We did have conversations but their mindset, where they wanted me to play or how they wanted me to play was not ideal. The situation I’m basically in or was going to be in, it wasn’t going to work out.”

The Celtics signed other free agent bigs to training camp deals earlier in the summer (Noah Vonleh, Mfiondu Kabengele) but left a couple of roster spots open to pursue a more proven player like Harrell, who remained a free agent for months this summer after his drug arrest in June. The Celtics kept tabs on Harrell while his legal situation was sorted out, opening the door for him to sign as a free agent once his charges were reduced.

“It was towards the end (of free agency),” Harrell said of the talks with Boston. “After I finished up everything I had going on this summer. It’s no secret, everywhere knew what took place (with my arrest). After I finished up that (legal situation), they had a few conversations with my agent but the role they wanted me to be in wasn’t going to benefit me, but just their situation. At the same time, it’s got to be a give and take but you have to give something.”

Harrell split time between the Wizards and Hornets last season, averaging 13.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, and two assists per game on 64 percent shooting in 23.1 minutes per contest. The former Sixth Man of the Year ultimately elected for a backup role behind Joel Embiid, making his debut for the 76ers on Tuesday night at TD Garden despite interest from the defending East champs.

When pressed about why the role the Celtics were discussing with him back in September wasn’t sufficient, Harrell got candid about the talks Boston had with his agent.

“It wasn’t really going to help me,” Harrell declared of a spot in Boston. “I mean, I’m definitely for the team and organization, but at the same time, if you are telling the player before the season even started they aren’t going to be playing games, that’s tough to say. That’s not going to work. I can’t do nothing with that. That’s how it went.”

Since Harrell signed with the 76ers, the Celtics have lost Rob Williams for at least the first two months of the season as he recovers from right knee surgery. The Celtics relied on a big man rotation that includes Noah Vonleh and Blake Griffin in their opener under head coach Joe Mazzulla. Vonleh played 20 minutes during Tuesday’s opener. Harrell played 11 minutes for the Sixers against Boston and finished with two points and a block.

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