Name: Julius Randle
Role: Power forward of the future, non-Kobe center of attention, franchise building block.
The good: Yes, Kobe Bryant coming back to put the finishing touches on his career is huge for the Lakers franchise, but Julius Randle beginning his career with the purple and gold will also be momentous for Los Angeles. He has great athleticism and ball-handling abilities for his size. and the Lakers haven't been shy about showing it off as they ramp up for the season.
Great size. Great athleticism. Great motor. Good moves. All of that, packaged with his nose for driving to the basket out of the triple threat? Yeah, he's going to be a joy to watch.
Randle injects premiere talent and youth into a team that's been bone-dry in that department for years. Even if the Lakers do poorly, highlights from Randle's first NBA campaign and watching him develop through an 82-game season should be an enjoyable experience for fans.
Lakers season preview
Lakers season preview
The bad: Randle is still completely unproven at the highest-level of competition and there are high expectations for him to reach. If he starts the season off slow, or goes through brutal stretches as rookies often do, it will be frustrating to many. There are going to be growing pains and the Lakers fan base might vicariously feel them if and when the team struggles while he's on the court.
He also couldn't find his mid-range during Las Vegas Summer League and is fairly predictable -- even if effective -- when he's finishing around the rim. Randle loves going left and teams are going to have that in bold letters in any scouting report.
The could-be: Julius Randle could be Rookie of the Year. Seriously. He may not be in Byron Scott's pre-training camp "starting lineup," but if he plays as well as any Lakers fan is hoping, he'll find his way into the starting lineup in no time. Randle could make a big impact in his first season because he was one of the most NBA-ready lottery picks. His game already has some nice polish on it and he'll have Kobe Bryant's brain, and experience, to pick from. The Lakers aren't likely to shy away from getting him touches if he's productive, and he's a very confident player.
A Laker as Rookie of the Year? Maybe, just maybe. It hasn't happened since Elgin Baylor averaged 24.9 points, 15 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game through the '58-59 season, though. Wait, he did WHAT in his rookie year?!
The hope not: You can take Steve Nash again. You can ding up Xavier Henry. You can tweak a few ankles. If you claim Julius Randle with a significant injury, Murphy's Law, you will have a fan base rioting in front of your house with cans of gasoline and flamethrowers ready to burn it all to the ground. Even if Randle takes some time to learn the ropes of playing in the NBA and doesn't have a tremendous season, that'd be OK. A serious injury, though? Nope. Not even going to think about it or type another word on this.
The likely: It's not likely that Randle will win Rookie of the Year, but he should have a very good season and be in the conversation. It'll be a matter of time until he takes over starting duties from Carlos Boozer, and his game should translate to the NBA right away. He'll definitely hit a few rough patches as he plays against tougher competition than he's ever faced, but he should be able to adjust throughout the year. Randle shouldn't disappoint, proving to be one of the building blocks Mitch Kupchak will build around going forward.
What it means: Randle's rookie year means everything to the Lakers and fans who have been crawling through a desert of despair over the last few seasons. If he can come in and immediately prove himself, as expected, this could start healing a franchise that's been deeply wounded. It's not fair to expect Randle to push the Lakers to some sort of Cinderella run with Kobe Bryant leading the way, but that's no fault of his own. There's a lot of work to be done in Tinseltown, and if he has a successful rookie season, that's the first step toward a brighter future.