The Los Angeles Lakers held their first official practice in preparation for Las Vegas Summer League, bringing together the talent that represents hope for the team's future. At the center of the web of prospects the Lakers have weaved stand both Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell, the two most important players in their rebuilding efforts.
The first step for Russell in proving the Lakers right for selecting the point guard dynamo with the No. 2 pick could come in just a few days. Summer League is a chaotic frenzy of players chasing their dreams, and teams trying to piece together progress and development under a tight time crunch. D'Angelo's the kind of player that can thrive in that setting, dicing up defenses with his other-worldly precision. His prolific passing is just one of the reasons he's going to be wearing the purple and gold armor to start his NBA career, and one of the reasons Julius might be the biggest beneficiary on the team.
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"[His passing] surprised me," Randle told media gathered at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo when asked for his first impression of D'Angelo. "That's going to be an adjustment too .... Having that point guard that's hitting you right on time."
The Lakers are living in dreams of Russell to Randle basketball salvation; pick-and-roll thunder and transition lightning. Mitch Kupchak brought in veteran talent to add established players to an otherwise-green roster, but the key to success isn't in signing Brandon Bass. If the Lakers are going to rise from the ashes, it will be a dish from Russell to Randle as they become a dynamic one-two punch of lottery talent. Russell want's to make that easy for his newfound basketball brother.
"That dude's a beast," Russell responded when asked about his thoughts after sharing the court with Julius for the first time. "I feel like we're going to work the pick-and-roll, transition, wherever he feels comfortable, we'll be able to adjust to it."
As for D'Angelo catching Randle off guard with his surgeon-like passing, it sounds like Julius will get used to having his dinner served on a platter soon enough. "I just feel like it's a transition. I know [Randle], being the guy he is -- he's a go-to player. He'll be open a lot of times and he won't even know it, and I'll find him and make it easy for him," Russell said.
Russell and Randle complement each other well, giving the Lakers a duo that could develop into something special. Jordan Clarkson isn't forgotten, either. "Clarkson seemed like an easy guy to play with," Russell said when talking about his young backcourt partner. "He's a fast paced guard, really uptempo and I'm the same. I'm not as light and fast as him but I try to pass and keep it that way."
But while Clarkson is the most proven of the trio, the Lakers hopes still fall on their two lottery picks. It might take time for everything to get into sync, but there also shouldn't be any lack of wow moments during Las Vegas Summer League either. As rigid as the Princeton offense sets they're adjusting too might be, as Russell indicated, there's still going to be plenty of opportunity for these players to bring their elite talents to the table on the fly. A little structure for a group of players that have no experience together as a unit shouldn't be cause for concern.
The Lakers first game is July 10 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Russell, Randle, Clarkson and the Lakers' Summer League squad began their preparation for exhibition play, but the guard they hope bursts like a star wants to make his first chance at proving himself count.
"I'm going to treat everything like it's a playoff game."