Christmas Day is nearly here, and SB Nation NBA blogs around The Internet of Things have been tasked with selecting gifts for our respective teams. What could the Los Angeles Lakers use when they tear into their presents? A remedy for their three-point shooting, or perhaps fix for their lackluster performance from the charity stripe? A message from Paul George sent via carrier pigeon that he’s on the way to LA?
All the Lakers want for Christmas is a trade partner for Julius Randle. Randle, in a contract year, is averaging the lowest minutes per game of his career despite playing the best basketball of his life.
The writing on the wall is becoming clearer as we move closer to the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Randle played just eight minutes against the Houston Rockets Wednesday night, something Luke explained away as the rest of the team playing well. Maybe there’s something to that, but it’s the same verbage Walton’s used all season to explain Julius’ lack of minutes. That he can’t get more than eight minutes with Brook Lopez out for weeks, or the fact that Luke gave the starting nod to Kyle Kuzma during Larry Nance Jr.’s own injury problems, is fairly telling.
Randle is averaging 19.6 points (career-high), 9.9 rebounds and three assists per 36 minutes, on a career high .594 true shooting percentage. He’s improved leaps-and-bounds as a defender, quickly adjusting to life as a small-ball center that can defend positions one-through-five.
Julius’ on-court defensive rating of 102.5 is the best among the Lakers’ regular rotation players, and his on-court offensive rating of 102.5 is behind only Josh Hart (105) and Kyle Kuzma (103.5) in that same group. Randle is averaging a career-best 1.38 points per possession as a pick-and-roll roll man, according to NBA.com, behind only Brandon Ingram in that category on the Lakers. It’s obvious he’s killing it right now, and the stats align with the eye test.
So why do the Lakers need someone to put in a call to general manager Rob Pelinka in regards to acquiring Randle for Christmas? Why wouldn’t the Lakers want to keep Julius in a purple and gold uniform if he’s obviously playing so well?
It’s no secret that Los Angeles’ Plan A for the summer is acquiring two max-contract level stars. To do so, they likely need to create additional salary space before free agency. Attaching a contract to any Randle deal — looking at you, Luol Deng — has to be a priority for LA.
There’s also the fact that there’s a fairly good chance that Randle signs an offer sheet the Lakers aren’t interested in matching. Why should they, especially with Luke using him so sparingly?
Randle’s value is a tough one to peg, especially because he’s playing such a limited capacity. That he’s a restricted free agent only makes the situation more difficult to traverse, though any team acquiring Julius would be doing so knowing a new contract is on the horizon. They’d also have the right to match if he signs an offer elsewhere, which is powerful.
It’s been a career year for Julius, who might just be enjoying that contract year boost we’ve all seen time and time again in the NBA. This could be the perfect storm for the Lakers, who could test the trade market while Randle plays at his freshly-set all-time high peak.
So, all the Lakers want for Christmas is a solid trade to move Randle to the next chapter of his career. Unwrapping that gift would be huge win for the franchise, and far better than being left with a lump of coal if and when Julius walks away without any return for LA.