After only completing a string of exhibition games, Julius Randle heard some life-altering feedback that Kobe Bryant delivered with brutal honesty.
“If you [bleep] this up, you’re a really big idiot,” Bryant told Randle.
Mere moments after stepping on the practice court, Jordan Clarkson wound up defending Bryant and soon experienced the scorn most defenders experience after the Lakers’ star scores on them.
“Don’t hurt yourself young fella,” Bryant said to Clarkson after sinking a mid-range jumper over him.
Both Randle and Clarkson still have limited perspective playing with Bryant.
Randle played only 14 minutes in the NBA season opener last year before fracturing his right tibia and missing the rest of his rookie season.Clarkson did not become the Lakers’ starting point guard until Bryant needed season-ending surgery on his right shoulder after playing 35 games. But both players offered perspective on what the Lakers’ other crop of young players will need to do to absorb Bryant’s stern leadership style.
“Leaving it all out there on the line and just play hard,” said Clarkson, who made the NBA’s All-Rookie First team after averaging 15.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting, five assists and 4.2 rebounds in 32.1 minutes through 38 games as a starter. “That’s all Coach ever asks for, to give your best effort. If you’re trying to make efforts for the team to win, and putting it all on the line, that’s where you gain your respect at all times.”
Bryant granted Clarkson that respect as he quickly grew into a combo guard capable of creating his own shot. Bryant often drew up X’s and O’s diagrams whenever he attended some of the Lakers’ home games to point out pick-and-roll coverages and spacing. Clarkson also noted in an article for The Players’ Tribune not to sweat the fact that he had missed a wide-open layup in a nationally televised game against Chicago on Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, Bryant represented one of the first to call Randle hours after his season-ending injury. Randle has often credited Bryant for his persistent feedback on dieting and staying patient with rehabbing.
“I think we’ll be fine. Kobe is an all time great. More than anything, this young corps should want to learn from him,” Randle said. “It’ll elevate our game by learning from him.”
The candidates seem plenty.
No. 2 draft pick D’Angelo Russell will likely share ball handling duties with Bryant. Rookie forward Anthony Brown will likely have the unenviable task of guarding Bryant in practice. Reserve scorer Lou Williams could pick up tips on both enhancing his scoring and adjusting with Bryant on the floor. Roy Hibbert could receive feedback from Bryant on the various nuances other former frontcourt teammates, including Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol.
Plenty of whom reported to the Lakers’ informal workouts at their practice facility leading into training camp, eager to provide a more compelling narrative to last year’s 21-61 finish that represented the Lakers’ worst record in franchise history.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that, they want to learn and have a good season,” Clarkson said. “Last year wasn’t fun losing all those games, but at the same time we did learn a lot and we worked and we kept improving. That’s all we can ask for and now we’ve got to put it all together during training camp and hopefully get some wins.”
And it appears Bryant has already noticed.
“Players that love the game, you never have to convince them to get into the gym,” Bryant said. “They do it naturally because they love doing it.”