One drive. One drive was all it took to cast a dark pall over the Los Angeles Lakers season.
With seven minutes left in the Lakers regular season opener against the Houston Rockets, the Lakers' prized rookie power forward Julius Randle began another dribble drive to the basket, as he has done thousands of times before throughout his life while playing basketball. In real time, it happened almost too quickly to see: Left leg colliding with right, the big man tripped over himself, a fluke injury that is the fault of no one. Even almost a day later, it's hard to process. As unfair as this may be, this freak accident will likely end the former Wildcat's season.
With so many hoping for, and the Lakers desperately needing big things to come out of Randle's maiden voyage, this injury blocked a great deal of the sunshine during what is now even more likely to be a dark campaign. Even with all of that established, the world is not ending, and neither is the Lakers' season. There are still 80 games left to play, so what are some silver linings in this indisputably dark cloud?
No need to quickly sign a replacement
One positive in the wake of this injury is that the team does not need to rush to sign a replacement player like Jason Collins or Byron Mullens off the street. The Lakers had a logjam in the frontcourt, and while if there was one player most fans would have wanted to protect from injury it would have been Julius, at least the team is somewhat well equipped to deal with his absence from the rotation during this season.
Another tiny positive in this scenario is that it will likely force Byron Scott to give Ryan Kelly some playing time, which could help with floor spacing, but more importantly, Kelly's continuing development. It is clearly more important for the franchise long term to be developing Randle, but with that option off the table for now, at least the organization has another young potential future contributor to plug in for some minutes.
The injury should not affect Randle long term
Randle's official diagnosis was a broken tibia, an injury which, according to most analysis, should not affect him long term. After undergoing surgery on Wednesday, it's been reported as a "clean" break, meaning a shorter recovery time than a fracture, as well as no ligament or tendon damage to add to the rehab complications. There is no such thing as a "good" injury in professional sports, but if Randle was going to break something in his lower extremities, this is not all that catastrophic for his career. The notably hardworking rookie should be expected to make a full recovery in time for next season.
Speaking of lower body injuries, there was also some worry leading up to the NBA Draft that Randle's foot had not healed properly from an earlier break and would need surgery. That did not come to pass, and the foot is now reportedly fine and not a source of any complaint. However, if the foot was the source of any weakness or small discomfort, it too will now be given additional time to heal and be strengthened along with Randle's leg during his rehabilitation.
Could watch and learn from the bench
This one is somewhat abstract, as there are infinite arguments between fans over the merits of young players learning through watching versus learning through being thrown into the fire. In this case, the team and Randle don't have a choice, and if he is to gain anything personally from this year, the rookie will have to be an eager listener and observer and attempt to at least get his mind up to NBA game speed.
While I personally am in the camp that believes playing is better for development than watching, Randle will have to attempt to gain as much as he can from learning NBA offensive and defensive schemes from the bench. If he stays diligent, this could lead to good things for a player who often looked out of control during the preseason.
Increased lottery chances (somewhat morbid, but true)
This is the one that almost feels too dirty to write. The whole point of this season, or at least the main one, was to enjoy the process of watching the Lakers' next hoped-for star's development in real time. Fate, Murphy's Law, a curse, or just plain bad luck, whatever one wants to call it, has cruelly taken that off the table. So what is left?
Everyone knows by now that the Lakers have to give their first-round pick in the 2015 draft to the Phoenix Suns
as part of the Steve Nash
trade if it falls outside of the top-five. Given that the purple and gold were already expected by many to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, losing a key contributor like Randle can only make them worse. How much worse remains to be seen, but the best possible salve to the pain of losing Randle's rookie season would be the addition of another potential star alongside him in next year's starting lineup. This injury, as gross as it feels to say, could help that cause.
The stunning, brutal, and unexpected nature of Randle's fateful spill to the floor on Tuesday night left me, and I would expect many of you, speechless. It seems so unfair that this injury plague that has been running rampant through the Lakers locker room for the past few seasons would take a player so young, and so full of hope and potential. All is not lost though. Randle's misfortune is indisputably a negative event for a franchise that lately seems to be taking on all of the avoided bad luck from its first fifty plus years all at once, but there is still hope for the future. Fans just will not get to watch very much of it on the court this season.