The stars seem to have aligned nicely for the Los Angeles Lakers right after the Magic Johnson-Rob Pelinka front office duo tidied up the roster. The Lakers have benefited from the continuity in player development with Luke Walton at the helm and players are beginning to show progress in building up their fundamentals and getting to know how to play as a team under the second-year head coach’s system.
The draft bolstered the roster with a few quality additions in Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball, as well as potential rotation players in the developing Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant. The good combination of factors saw the Lakers clinch a record three honours in the Summer League — winning the title and bagging both the Finals MVP, Kuzma, and the Summer League MVP, Ball. With such a healthy progress, the Lakers have since started the season stronger with a 6-9 record, compared to the past few years of lackluster slates.
All these not only helped to build a more positive team culture but also allowed the Lakers to experience how to win games. Did we mention how Lonzo Ball’s pass-first mentality has rubbed off contagiously on his teammates and made sharing the ball more in vogue in Lakers than ever before?
To add to the above reasons, the Lakers have one of the two biggest cap spaces around and are potentially able to attract one or two max-level players come free agency of 2018. We will then be looking realistically at franchise players like LeBron James, Paul George, or DeMarcus Cousins possibly joining a rising team like the Lakers.
With all these attractive factors considered, the only limitation is playing time for everyone. Obviously if one or two superstar players were to join the Lakers, the starters and second unit would need some reorganizing and only players that are critical to form the young core, moving forward, will be kept. That leaves Julius Randle in an unusual spot.
The 22-year-old University of Kentucky product has shown steady progress in terms of his offensive numbers, averaging close to a double double (13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds) in the 2016-17 season. However, he is not alone in this positive growth curve. Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma are both showing that they can be productive when on the floor as the starting power forward for the Lakers. Brandon Ingram, with his unique skillset and length, can also fill in at this spot if Walton wants to create some mismatch on rotations. If LeBron James or Paul George joins, they too might take the starting spot for power forward. That means there is real competition at this position.
With the high pace and versatile play that Luke Walton intends to play, Julius Randle’s highly specialized role at power forward may put him at risk of being a good trading chip, if he is unable to become versatile enough to fill other spots. One important point to consider is that it is time for the fourth-year player to sign his contract extension and Randle will surely be seeking a pay raise in his new contract.
With cap space as top priority of the Lakers when they wish to attract top talent come 2018 free agency, it is unlikely that the Lakers would accede to the pay raise that Julius will be seeking. Only time will tell if the Lakers will remain the final home for Julius Randle.