The Lakers made the first major step in their rebuilding process when they used their seventh overall draft pick to select Julius Randle, a 19-year-old bruising forward that already has the talent and work ethic to have a long-term future here.
But Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak stepped his foot on the brakes in assessing what impact Randle can make his rookie season. In a wide-ranging press conference on Friday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo, Kupchak anticipated Randle initially driving through some speed bumps.
“There are going to be moments where he plays just great and then there will be moments he gets a rebound, brings the ball down the court and commits an offensive foul, gets a defensive foul, drops his head, gets frustrated and gets a technical foul,” Kupchak said. “Then there will be moments he will just be great.”
Granted, the Lakers are plenty excited about Randle’s potential. He posted a nation-leading 24 double doubles because of a physical style that should help him convert in the post and on the boards. The Lakers were left pleasantly surprised during his pre-draft workouts that he boasts a dependable mid-range jumper. The Lakers saw Randle make efforts to show off his playmaking skills during Summer League play.
Yet, Lakers coach Byron Scott has currently penciled in Carlos Boozer to start at power forward. Randle will also compete for minutes against Ed Davis, Ryan Kelly and possibly even Jordan Hill, who is currently slotted to start at center.
The Lakers acquired Boozer for $3.2 million through the amnesty bid well after selecting Randle in the draft. Yet, Kupchak dismissed the notion he made that move in case Randle did not develop as quickly as the Lakers hope.
“It was more geared toward trying to win,” Kupchak said. “We didn’t put in a bid for Carlos and maybe he can help. Carlos is 32. There’s no reason why he can’t play three or four more years. In fact, he wants to. It’s not like this is his last year and he wants to teach Julius how to play. He wants to play. But that will be a benefit. We got Carlos. No disrespect to Julius. We didn’t decide he’s not going to help us this year so let’s get a veteran. We got him hoping he can help us win games this year. Whatever gets Julius gets, he’s going to have to earn.”
Randle has frequently stayed on board with that thought process. In his introductory press conference, Randle stressed he remains more consumed about proving his worth than taking a starting role. Randle has also endorsed the Lakers’ vision in taking advantage of his dominating presence inside, while expanding his game as a mid-range player. Randle also gushed about learning from Kobe Bryant, who Randle idolized growing up.
Yet, full clarity will not emerge until training camp begins on Tuesday. Scott will want to see how Randle competes against his frontcourt counterparts. Kupchak suggested the Lakers may “go small” because the team lacks a player that is listed at least seven feet tall. Though he sounded skeptical Randle could play at small forward, Kupchak believes Scott could use a number of frontcourt combinations that would entail Boozer and Randle playing together.
“Julius is going to play,” said Kupchak before offering a forewarning. “But he is a rookie.”