In between countless workouts and film sessions, Julius Randle had a rare moment to himself where he could soak everything in. The Lakers drafting him seventh overall became a “dream come true.” So did teaming up with Kobe Bryant, his childhood idol.
Randle had plenty of time to register it all the past three months. But as he put on the Lakers’ uniform for the team’s annual media day on Monday, everything struck him at once.
“I was looking at myself in the mirror not too long ago,” Randle said. “Let me keep this on.”
Yet, Randle fully understands nothing becomes guaranteed in ensuring that he will always wear that purple and gold uniform laced with a “16 X” logo indicating the number of championships they won.
When the Lakers drafted Randle, it appeared likely he would start and arguably become the second most important player on the team behind Bryant. Since then, the Lakers acquired 12-year NBA veteran Carlos Boozer off the amnesty wire, and Lakers coach Byron Scott has indicated he currently favors him to start at power forward.
“Carlos probably shoots the ball a little bit better,” Scott said. “But Julius probably handles the ball better too. They have a lot of things they can help each other with, but Carlos is one of those guys who is a positive guy and can be a mentor to him.”
Randle sounded open to the idea.
“That doesn’t bother me at all,” Randle said. “I don’t want anything given to me in the first place. He’s been at this level and he’s played at such a high, productive level. So whether he starts or not, he deserves what he gets because he’s put in the time and he’s been successful. But I have to prove myself through my work ethic and me producing because nothing’s going to be given to me.”
Boozer learned that the hard way in his last season in Chicago. Despite averaging 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds, Boozer sat out in the second and fourth quarters of most games last season because of concerns over his defensive struggles. It did not help that former USC product Taj Gibson emerged as a promising forward.
Boozer stayed professional about Chicago waiving him, saying “that’s part of the business of basketball.” But it sounded clear that Boozer seems interested in both gaining back his starting position, while also becoming a mentor for Randle.
“He’s got a lot of talent, man,” Boozer said of Randle. “A super talented kid. He’s got a bright future ahead of him. I’m looking forward to teaching him a lot of the ropes here in the NBA, especially as a big man. He’s gonna be a successful player for a long time.”
Boozer knows a thing or two about becoming a successful player for a long time. He has averaged a career 16.3 points on 52.3 percent shooting and 9.8 rebounds per game through 12 NBA seasons, and the Lakers believe he can play three or four more years. Boozer appeared in two NBA All-Star games. Boozer played on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team and gushed how Bryant led the team with conducting morning workouts before practices. Despite his defensive struggles, Boozer also has thrived as a big man offensively even if he is listed at 6-foot-9. Randle has the same height.
“You got to be good, you got to be talented, you’ve got to find ways to get around those seven footers,” Boozer said. “You’ve got to have a relentless work ethic. To be honest, being 6-8, 6-9, going against seven footers all the times, you’ve got to find different ways to get rebounds and score the ball, especially out here in the West. You’ve got to be hungry. I can already see it in Julius.”
Randle has displayed that in different ways.
Instead of having an appetite for eating, Randle has become interested in feeding himself with more healthy foods to become a more mobile big man.
“You’re not going to be perfect,” Randle said. “But you can stay away from the fried stuff and the sweets and all that stuff.”
Instead of solely worrying about bullying defenders inside, Randle has spent plenty of his time this offseason both working on his mid-range jumper and ball handling skills.
“My expectations for the year are just to be a big-time contributor for the team,” Randle said. “Do whatever they need to win, just compete.”
Instead of becoming star struck with Bryant’s presence, Randle has become eager in seeing how his idol prepares.
“Working out with him was what I learned from him, more than playing pickup with him,” said Randle, who he said Bryant showed in those games he “hasn’t lost a step.” “You watch him so much as a kid, you just see how advanced he is and you know the only solution or answer to why he’s so advanced is you know he’s put in the work. So it’s pretty simple.”
Hence, why Randle has pledged to follow the same approach.
He described his performances in the Las Vegas Summer League as just “OK,” averaging 12.5 points on 41.5 percent shooting and 4.3 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game. Randle revealed he felt behind on his conditioning because of a contract signing delay stemmed from the Lakers wanting to maximize cap space during free agency. Randle has since rated his conditioning “a million times better.”
After experiencing frustration with the congested traffic around Los Angeles, Randle has confined himself in areas near the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo to minimize delays toward off-season workouts.
Of course, unanswered questions remains on whether Randle would eventually take Boozer’s place or if the two would ever play together. Yet, the Lakers’ rookie vowed to stay consumed with working toward becoming a great Laker over worrying about the hoopla that comes with it. After all, Randle wants to ensure that his dream stays true.
“I can definitely can get used to this,” Randle said. “It comes with a lot of responsibility. But I can get used to this.”