The Lakers would be making a huge mistake if they allow their premature pursuit of two superstars to cause them to lose Julius Randle, who is not only the team’s current MVP but also their most irreplaceable component.
I’m not a big fan of the Lakers current handling of Julius Randle’s free agency, which can only be interpreted as a sign the team doesn’t view him as a critical component in the championship team they’re trying to build. That comes as a surprise to me as I see Julius as the heart and soul of everything Lakers’ fans root for and love about this team and a player who’s not only extremely hard to replace but also the cornerstone to the Lakers’ ability to play small ball.
I don’t understand the strategy. Why risk alienating Randle? Why not take a public position that he’s the team MVP and we’ll match any offer he receives? Why not discourage rather than encourage teams from bidding on Randle? Every player knows the NBA is a business but it’s not smart strategy to flaunt that in the face of a player as critical to the team’s future as Julius Randle. If there’s a reason for him wanting to leave the Lakers, it’s disrespect like this.
Meanwhile, there are compelling reasons why Julius Randle should be the single most important free agent the Lakers pursue this summer, starting with his role as the team’s emotional leader and energizer bunny on court. After transforming his body in the offseason to prove he could maintain his insane level of energy for extended minutes, Julius not only became the team’s leading scorer and rebounder but also its most valuable player.
Losing his starting power forward position was a blessing in disguise for Julius Randle as it gave him an opportunity to backup Brook Lopez and play small ball center, which I believe is ultimately his best position in the NBA. The Lakers played at the third fastest pace in the league primarily because they played small ball 40% of the time, same as the Golden State Warriors, with Julius Randle totally dominating opponents at both ends of the court.
The NBA’s stats clearly show how dominate the Lakers were playing small ball with Julius Randle at center. The 5-man lineup of Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle posted an offensive rating of 104.0, a defensive rating of 90.1, for a net rating of 13.9, which was the best rating of any major lineup used by the Lakers last year. The Lakers’ only other positive net ratings were also small ball lineups.
In contrast, the Lakers’ traditional starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Brook Lopez posted an offensive rating of 100.4, defensive rating of 101.8, for a net rating of -1.4. Playing small ball is a big reason why the Lakers improved last season and why their offense led the league in points in the paint and their defense ranked 12th in the league after finishing 30 out of 30 the last two seasons.
Julius Randle is why the Lakers excel when going small. That’s why he is so valuable and irreplaceable in Luke Walton’s offensive and defensive schemes. Even though Randle can’t stretch the floor, his speed, quickness, handle, and relentless attack mode make him a matchup nightmare for opposing centers. Similarly, his ability to switch everything on defense and guard bigger players in the post and smaller players on the perimeter fuels our small ball defense.
The harsh reality is, if the Lakers lose Julius Randle, they lose their ability to play winning small ball, which keyed their success at both ends of the court. Small ball has become a vital staple of every team’s offensive and defensive schemes, whether it’s stretching the floor to pull opposing shot blockers away from the basket or switching everything to stay in front of opposing scorers. Small ball is here to stay and Julius is what makes it work for the Lakers.
Every team in the league is looking for the rare players who have the ability to play small ball center and hoping they can find the next Draymond Green. The Lakers are fortunate to have a player in Julius Randle with the potential to be their version of Draymond Green. While he may not have the defensive chops or 3-point stroke Green boasts, Randle is quicker, faster, and stronger. All he needs to become the ideal prototype small ball center is a 3-point shot
LeBron James might be able to play small ball center on offense but he’s past the time when he could play strenuous minutes defending guards and wings. We’re in a new age of versatility in the NBA and Julius Randle is the Lakers’ Swiss Army knife. You don’t throw that away just to chase two superstars.
Regardless which free agents the Lakers pursue in free agency, they’re going to want to play small ball, which means the Lakers must keep Julius Randle.