VENICE BEACH -- The sun beamed down on the blue courts at Venice Beach as a crowd filled with people ready to forget about the near-record heat and mind-numbing traffic across the always-jammed freeways of Southern California gathered. They enjoyed the likes of Guy Dupuy serving as a cool breeze through the sky with dunks like this that nearly caused the roaring waves to devastate beachgoers.
Still, guest judge Julius Randle was the biggest presence among the sea of people gathered to watch the 7-Eleven, Brisk L.A. City Slam. Randle made his return to competitive play in Las Vegas during Summer League, and there were plenty of flashes of how tantalizing a prospect he is. Once again he showed why he's so important for the Lakers' future. The franchise's success has cultivated a culture that demands championships, and Julius knows he's one of the key components in bringing that back to the city.
"To have us three young guys coming in together and trying to change the ways of the organization as far as winning, and getting the Lakers where they're used to being, it's definitely exciting," Julius said when asked about his outlook on playing alongside Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell. "We're all excited for the process."
The Lakers' talented trio took its first step together, and the best example of their abilities meshing beautifully came against the Dallas Mavericks. A beautifully orchestrated pick-and-roll set featuring a stunning bounce pass from Russell to Randle, a drive-and-kick from Randle, and a corner-three from Clarkson stood as the best example of them clicking as a group. "It's learning how to play with each other in any way, shape, form or fashion," Randle said of that perfect moment in the Thomas and Mack Center.
He concluded his thought, "We're learning everybody's spots on the floor, creating for each other, and figuring out how to do what's best for each other on the court."
Randle's week of exhibition play was in limited minutes, but ultimately it served as one of several major steps in his recovery process no matter the outcome. Julius' leg breaking on opening night was such a tragic and shocking moment that longtime Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti cited it as one of the reasons he decided it's time to move on after next season. That Randle is back on the floor playing basketball and already looks prepared for the start of next season is a triumph.
He'll head into the year in the best shape of his life and has plenty of time to continue developing physically. Julius attributed his slimmer physique to improved nutrition and a focus on conditioning training every day. The Lakers restricted Randle to 20 minutes per game during Summer League, but during his time on the floor he never wanted off the court.
Julius' return is behind him now, clearing the way for him to focus on a fresh start to his career. He sees himself mixing it up in the pick-and-roll on both dives and pops with Russell, and said he plans to, "keep getting better at shooting." Randle hasn't had much of an opportunity to show his improved outside stroke, but he's repeatedly made it clear how important it is to be a threat from mid-range. Forcing his defender to play off-balance while being able to drive straight through them like a bowling ball makes Julius a tough cover, and he showed that throughout Summer League.
Reaching the peak of his potential could make Julius one of the best young power forwards in the NBA. He has a chance to break out as one of the keys in the Lakers turning into a young, competitive team. His versatility on the court is what makes him such an intriguing talent, and Randle knows he'll have to be a Swiss Army Knife. His ability to compromise a defense in several areas is how he'll pave his way to the greatness he strives for. Now, he's just anxious for the light to turn green.
"It's amazing," Randle beamed while talking about his first year as a Laker. "It's everything I dreamed of and more. It's been an amazing opportunity and an amazing blessing." Even after a nightmare start to his season, Julius is dreaming big things about the young team he's anxious to grow with.