Within only 14 minutes in his first regular-season NBA game, Julius Randle’s rookie season soon changed from a year full of potential toward a year full of limitations.
But after sitting out the rest of the 2014-15 season with a fractured right tibia, Randle soon has blossomed enough for the Lakers to start thinking about their possibilities again.
The Lakers recently cleared Randle for full-court five-on-five drills. Assuming he experiences no setbacks from now until summer league play starts in Las Vegas on July 10, the Lakers expect Randle to play in his first competitive game in the past nine months.
“He looks great,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said of Randle, who is believed both to have lost weight and showed more improvement in his jump shooting. “He looks great. His body looks great and he’s getting up and down the floor.”
Only three weeks ago, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak downplayed the possibility that Randle could play in Summer League, stressing the higher importance that Randle returns for training camp in late September fully healthy. But with Randle steadily progressing with his training, Kupchak called his participation in Summer League “very important.” If all goes according to plan, Randle will join point guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, small forwards Anthony Brown and Jabari Brown and power forwards Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black on the Lakers’ Summer League team.
The most challenging and intriguing process will entail the Lakers figuring out what player Randle will become, leaving Kupchak to suggest he could become a jack-of-all trades forward that Lamar Odom once showed here. Odom played as a key reserve for the Lakers from 2004 and 2011, a stretch that included two NBA championships in 2009 and 2010.
“He can rebound the ball and bring the ball up the court and make a play like Lamar could,” Kupchak said of Randle. “I knew he could rebound and defend with the best in the low post. I know he likes to turn and face. I know he likes to get out and run. I know he has great size and great strength. But I don’t think he is a prototype power forward. I don’t think he’s your typical small forward. He’s not a stretch four. He’s a versatile player that has to find his way in this league. We’re going to be challenged as a coaching staff to figure out how to best get him to play a game that will help us win games.”
After the Lakers selected him seventh overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, Randle showed glimpses of varying images in summer league and training that ensured a nation-leading 24 double-doubles in his lone season at University of Kentucky. He provided a bruising presence in the paint, which elicited comparisons to Memphis’ Zach Randolph. Randle assumed ball-handling duties with varying success as a so-called point forward. Team accounts say Randle has steadily progressed with his mid-range jumper.
That leaves Randle slotted as the Lakers’ starting power forward. But the Lakers have not ruled out pursuing other marquee free agents at that position, including Cleveland’s Kevin Love. Kupchak also noted that Russell’s arrival will prompt him to place higher priority in acquiring frontcourt players, with candidates including Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, Memphis’ Marc Gasol, the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and Detroit’s Greg Monroe.
“It depends on the player and depends on how our coaches see the player,” Kupchak said. “They’ll have a much better feel on the NBA players that are free agents and they’ll be more involved.”