Why the reports that the Lakers can’t sign two superstars like Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins and still keep Julius Randle are not correct
I fully understand the frustration of Julius Randle fans who can’t fathom why the Lakers appear to be committed to trading the 22-year old center/forward to clear up cap space to sign two max contract free agents this summer.
Randle’s performance last night raised that frustration to a brand new high. In only his second start of the year, Julius posted 29 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 assists in 33 minutes while shooting 13–19 from the floor with a team best plus minus of 8 in the Lakers’ double overtime loss to the Houston Rockets. Watching Randle driving and attacking Rockets’ centers Capela and Nene over and over for easy layups had to have Lakers fans shaking their heads.
With Julius Randle reinventing himself as one of the best small ball centers in the NBA and more teams opting to go small and switch everything, trading him seems short sighted and could haunt the Lakers for years down the road. While there have been questions as to Randle’s fit with how the Lakers want to play, the supposed reason the Lakers are committed to trading or letting him walk as a free agent is their desire to create cap space for two superstars.
But a quick review of the Lakers’ salary cap situation for next year reveals that is only the case if the Lakers sign LeBron James, who would earn a starting salary of $35,350,000, which would require the Lakers to move Randle. But if the Lakers targets were DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, both of whom would earn starting salaries of $30,300,000, then the Lakers would have enough cap space to sign both of them and keep either Randle or Clarkson.
There’s no question Plan A for the Lakers is to sign LeBron James but chances are slim that LeBron will elect to leave the East and join the purple and gold, which means brings us to Plan B, which is to sign Cousins and George, which would leave the Lakers enough cap space to keep either Randle or Clarkson. Bottom line, the decision regarding Julius Randle’s future with the Lakers is likely to end up as a decision whether to keep Randle or Jordan Clarkson.
Based on performance and potential, I would definitely give Randle the edge as he is a much more impactful player with greater upside than Clarkson. The bigger question, however, is whether Randle would be willing to stay with the Lakers if his role were primarily as backup center to Cousins. Randle sees himself as a starter but with DeMarcus Cousins and Kyle Kuzma projected to start at center and power forward for the Lakers, Julius may be odd man out.
Bottom line, the Lakers don’t believe Randle fits in their future plans because they do not see him as a future starter and don’t believe he would be willing to come off the bench. That’s what’s behind their drive to trade him more than the need to clear up cap space to sign two max contract free agents. The good news is that Julius’ recent play should only increase his trade value. Hopefully, the Lakers will find a deal to benefit Julius as well as the team.
The other possibility although remote is that the Julius plays so well over the next couple of weeks that the Lakers decide to hold onto him for the rest of the season to keep their options open. Maybe increased minutes at center and power forward and a limited free agent market next summer could convince Julius to stay with the Lakers even though he would be coming off the bench. That would be a win-win situation for both Julius Randle and the Lakers.