The stoic expression on Julius Randle’s face told a lot of the story. So did his unflinching honesty surrounding his frustration with playing time during a double-digit win over Phoenix on Sunday at Staples Center.
“I played 15 minutes yesterday,” said Randle, who didn’t speak to reporters after Sunday’s game but was made available after Monday’s practice. “I was frustrated when I went out on the court. Simple.”
The subsequent reaction seemed more complex.
With the Lakers’ reserves coughing up a 38-point lead in the fourth quarter against Phoenix, Lakers coach Byron Scott phased his starters back in the game. When Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr entered with 4:43 remaining, Randle looked irritated as he went to the bench. Afterwards, Scott said he told Randle in front of the team to “guard your man” after also overshadowing his 12 rebounds and three assists with two points on 0-of-4 shooting.
“I don’t think there was defense on the court at all in the fourth quarter,” Randle said. “He singled me out. But I think it was a team thing.”
Scott emphasized he had also addressed the Lakers’ entire reserve unit. Scott had talked about Randle individually following Sunday’s win because Scott was specifically asked about Randle’s frustration. But Scott offered a new message to Randle, who has spent the last month as a reserve despite representing the Lakers’ seventh pick of the 2014 NBA Draft.
“He probably took it the worst and he’s going to have to learn from it. He’s got to grow up. Simple as that,” Scott said of Randle. “The main thing I don’t like is when you take him out of games, how he reacts sometimes. I chalk it up to immaturity and just being inexperienced at this level. It’s going to happen again. I’m going to take him out of other games that he’s not going to like.”
Scott described Randle’s attitude in Monday’s practice as “okay.” Scott then stressed Randle has “another chance” when the Lakers (8-27) host the Golden State Warriors (31-2) on Tuesday at Staples Center. Yet, Randle suggested handling his emotions might become difficult.
“Basketball is an emotional sport,” Randle said. “I’m going to feel some type of way about it. But like I told you guys, ‘It’s not in my control.’ Regardless, I’m going to feel frustrated and happy, whatever it may be.”
It has mostly entailed frustration amid the Lakers’ losses and Randle’s evolving roles. On Sunday, Randle yelled at reserve guard Marcelo Huertas to pass him the ball. But Randle sounded defiant about his game. He touted his 12 rebounds and three assists while arguing he only scored two points because of having only four shots attempts.
“It’s not about more shots. They weren’t showing me anything. I just took what the defense gave me,” Randle said. “It’s about ball movement. It’s not about ball attempts and getting points. It’s about getting wins.”
That might explain why Randle’s role won’t change.
He has averaged 11.5 points on 40 percent shooting and 9.9 rebounds through 24.5 minutes as a reserve, while averaging 11.7 points on 43.3 percent shooting and 9.2 rebounds in 28.4 minutes as a starter. Before Sunday’s off night, Randle had posted double-digit efforts in the previous three games. But Scott has resisted making lineup changes because of the Lakers’ recent three-game winning streak. Meanwhile, Nance has emerged as a consistent force with energy, mid-range jump shooting and defense.
“That’s almost asking if he’s jealous of Larry. I don’t think so,” Scott said. “The one thing about Julius that I do know is that he wants this bad. He wants to perform. He wants to play well. Sometimes you want that too bad. You’ve got to relax and just kind of let the game come to you. But again, he’s 21 years old. He’s young. He’s going to go through these type of things. As a coach, I’m going to let him go through it. I said my peace last night and I’m going to let him go through it.”
Yet, Scott has suggested in recent days he may make another change. He may start Randle at power forward and slide Nance at small forward, something Nance Jr. said he would “love.”
“I want him to be an All-Star,” Nance said of Randle. “I want everybody on this team to be the best they can be. So if I come out and he has a double double, awesome. If he comes out and I have a double double, awesome. Either way, I’m just trying to win. If he gives us the best chance to win, play him. If I give us the best chance to win, play me. I think personally we’re a pretty cool duo like a tag team. Tag me out, tag him in and let’s go.”
Nance spoke with enthusiasm as he said those words. Randle spoke with muted tones amid losing a starting role he said is “not my decision.”
“You can’t get frustrated all the time and can’t be happy all the time,” Randle said. “Basketball is a game of ups and downs and emotions. The biggest thing is you control your effort and how hard you play. That’s what I’ll continue to do.”
Yet that explains why Scott pulled Randle in the first place, providing the framework of a testy relationship in 2016 between the Lakers coach and one of their youthful prospects.