by Kyle Flynn
With less than two weeks to go until the Feb. 8 NBA trade deadline, the Los Angeles Lakers have a decision to make on 23-year-old forward Julius Randle.
Randle, who was the seventh pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Lakers, has a contract that is ready to expire at the end of the 2018 season.
Randle has spent much of this season in an uncomfortable role. He spent much of the early part of the year on the bench after being a starter for most of his early NBA career. With inconsistent minutes and no assurance of minutes in the near future, Randle’s long-term future with the franchise was becoming dim. The team was not expected to re-sign him at the end of his contract with the way things were headed.
The Lakers have since inserted Randle into the starting lineup, after 33 games, and he has, for the most part, thrived in his new role.
“I think he’s done a phenomenal job in his role coming off the bench for us, but due to injuries and due to the fact that we’ve been losing, you might as well try some new things out and see how they work,” coach Luke Walton said of his decision to start Julius.
To summarize his production from the bench, the fourth-year big man is averaging a career-high 20.7 points per 36 minutes on a career-best .590 true shooting percentage.
“It’s an honor. I’ll say it all year, playing time in the league is very precious, so it’s an honor,” Randle said of his call-up. Since becoming a starter again, his per-36 numbers have only increased. Randle is averaging 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds.
Although Randle has had three games over 20 points since being inserted into the lineup, he has still shown minor inconsistency. During the first two games of a four-game stretch from Jan. 9 to 15, Randle followed 22 points and 14 rebounds up with 0 points and 6 rebounds. On the second two nights, he had 23 points and 15 rebounds but finished the last game with a mere 9 points and 8 rebounds.
It is also noteworthy that when Randle and Brook Lopez both are in the starting lineup, the Lakers were 8-3 in those games.
Magic Johnson and the Lakers organization have since released a statement on Randle’s future, saying “the organization is likely to re-sign Randle if he survives the trade deadline.”
The biggest question facing the rest of LA’s season will surround the possible trading of Randle, along with Jordan Clarkson and others. Randle can become a key piece to another team’s playoff success this season, and he can compensate the Lakers by swinging them a great player in return.
With the Lakers winning five straight games, and plenty of cap space in the upcoming off-season, maybe they will just keep the roster the way it is and build on it moving forward.