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Lakers Mailbag: Getting a handle on the Julius Randle situation, Jordan Clarkson musings

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The first week with Lonzo Ball at the wheel is in. Let’s talk about it!

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers have wrapped up their first week of the season, going 1-2 and showing both the good and bad of what’s to come. Defense, the team’s focus all training camp as directed by head coach Luke Walton, once again looks like it’s going to hurt the Lakers all season.

We’re also seeing some other interesting things, like Jordan Clarkson solidifying himself as a true bench-scoring combo guard. The Lou Williams training wheels are long gone for the reserves, but Clarkson has stepped up to the plate.

Lonzo Ball is also finding his way, looking like the as-advertised natural passer through the first few games. He clearly has to grow as a scorer, but with the ball in his hands, he makes great decisions and really does spoon feed his teammates.

With that said, let’s chit chat some about what we’re seeing with the return of Lakers basketball.

As always, drop me questions on Twitter or SSRMailbag@gmail.com.

What’s going on with Julius Randle? This was supposed to be a career year for him, but it’s going the opposite way right now.

The situation with Randle has not been pretty to start the season, and Coach Luke hasn’t backed down from being very open with the media that he feels it’s clearly coming from being benched. Walton also believes that Randle will grow into the role, and Julius was one of the players in the five-man unit that turned things around against the New Orleans Pelicans.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Luke said this about Randle after the game against the Pellies.

“I thought it was his best game so far. Like any player in this league I think he's been a little frustrated that he wasn't starting, and tonight he looked to be... his energy level just seemed right tonight. I told him ‘You not starting is our decision, so don't let those thoughts weigh you down.’

“I thought tonight though his energy... just coming out in our shootaround today. As soon as I saw him I noticed, I said something to our assistants, I said ‘Julius looks way, way better tonight,’ and I thought it showed in his game.”

Randle has a LOT riding on how he performs this season, and if that means he has to do it off the bench for the time being, so be it. I don’t think he’ll be a reserve all season long, as Walton has talked up having a very open mind when it comes to matchups, but that’s the reality for Julius now.

It’s up to him to make the most of it.

Have we seen the end of Zupac?

For now, it certainly looks like Ivica Zubac is the backup-backup this season. Andrew Bogut has played in all three games thus far, even if he’s averaging a minimal nine minutes per game.

Luke’s also playing smaller lineups, trying Randle as a small-ball center when he deems it a sensible chess move. We saw that work against the New Orleans Pelicans during the stretch of play that turned the entire game around.

Zubac didn’t look good in Las Vegas and didn’t make an impact during preseason. The bitter sweet view of this is that eventually one of the Lakers bigs will need time off, and Ivica should be next up in the rotation for minutes. This is going to be a challenging year for the young center, testing his focus and motivation to continue improving even when the minutes aren’t there.

At some point, though, it may be best to send him down to South Bay.

I’ve decided to pick the Lakers as my West team. Give me the Cliff’s Notes to being a new Lakers fan.

First and foremost, welcome. While some will say it’s bandwagon to jump on as a Lakers fan, nowadays it seems to be the opposite. The venom has been strong against this franchise, so expect to see that play out quite prominently on social media. Pay it no mind; you’ve inherited 16 championships, friend!

Los Angeles Lakers Media Day Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

That’s thick armor, so wear it and don’t let those pebbles bother you.

The franchise is putting up a united front across their leaders for the first time in a longtime, a welcome change after the inner turmoil that seemed to always be boiling when Jim Buss was the vice president of basketball operations. Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss are a powerful trio. This season will go a long way in proving the concepts they’ve been instilling.

Speaking of which, the organization is very-much all-in on Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball being meaningful NBA players. Reports all offseason indicate the Lakers could have been shopping Ingram for some of the big name players that were traded, but marked him as an untouchable player in discussions. If he doesn’t start taking a big stride this season, his trade value drops from where it once was and his on-court value hasn’t risen quite to where it needs to be.

Overall, just enjoy the ride. The team has been frustratingly bad for years, but once again we get to approach a new season with the hope of just that... something new. Enjoy your stay!

If the option to trade Clarkson and something else for a star player were available, should the Lakers do it?

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

That’s an absolute yes, but this all depends on what that something else is and who the star player on the other side is. Clarkson looks like he might be ready to become the player he projects as — a true scoring threat off the bench that can play both guard roles — and that has weight.

There are two obvious pieces you want to attach to Clarkson, but they take the Lakers down very different paths. Tacking Luol Deng onto a Clarkson trade clears salary, but without additional moving parts, doesn’t put the Lakers into “star player offer” territory.

Shipping Randle with Clarkson, however, could be an appealing package. It’d also be a big win for the Lakers’ future salary situation, with Clarkson on the books for $25.9 million over the two seasons following the 2017-2018 campaign, and Randle set to become a restricted free agent. However, would a team really be interested in paying big bucks (eventually, with Randle) for two of the youngsters the Lakers have been unsuccessful in building with for years?

Something else to consider as the season progresses: $12.5 million (‘18-19) and $13.4 million (‘19-20) for Clarkson might be a steal for a true Sixth Man of the Year-type guard, and especially compared to what Randle may fetch as a free agent.

Where do you see Corey Brewer's minutes coming from, especially with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope back? Loved his defense against Phoenix!

I think C-Brewski will continue to crack the rotation. He’s been very willing to step onto the court with a sense of urgency when it’s finally his turn to play, and he absolutely changed the dynamic of the game against the Phoenix Suns. You can’t expect Brewer to set that bar every game, but having a perimeter defender off the bench ready to expend all of his energy disrupting the flow of an opponent is pretty useful.

Expect his minutes to come from at the total expense of Deng, to start. I think players like Josh Hart and Bogut will be in something of a “minutes” pool with Brewer for the next few weeks, with Coach Luke filling out gaps in the rotation with those players.

Brewer has looked ready to compete, fits into the “fast and chaotic” style the Lakers want to run by upping the pace with defensive stops, and might end up being one of the better deep rotation options on the team in spurts.