With enough cap space to sign two max-level free agents, the Los Angeles Lakers will be one of the bigger players in free agency this summer, if not the biggest. However, before they go chasing stars, they have to decide what they want to do with their own free agents, starting with Julius Randle.
After a rough start to the season, Randle turned things around and had the best campaign of his four-year career. In 82 games for the Lakers, Randle averaged a career-high 16.1 points — tied for the team-high — on a career-high 55.8 percent shooting.
And Randle did all of that despite averaging only 26.7 minutes per game, the least he’s averaged since his sophomore season. Randle also averaged 2.6 assists and team-high eight rebounds.
Teams desperate for a long-term answer at the power forward position could try and enter a bidding war with the Lakers, who can match any offer made for Randle this summer. But almost all of the teams that have the money to make Randle a sizable offer are still a few years away from playoff contention, something Randle is trying to avoid in free agency.
“I just want to be in a great situation where I can continue to grow as a basketball player,” Randle said at the NBA Draft Combine on Thursday. “Going into my fifth year I really want to compete. I see the playoffs and the intensity and that’s something I really want to be a part of and experience ... That’s really all I’m looking for, just to have fun and compete in playing basketball and continue to grow as a player.”
A lot can change by free agency moratorium period on July 1, but as of now only nine teams are projected to have more than $16 million in cap space this summer, which is more or less what Randle is expected to demand annually. Of those teams, only two made the postseason this year: the Indiana Pacers and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Like the Lakers, the 76ers are going to try and make a splash in free agency by signing a max-level free agent like LeBron James and Paul George. While they could sign Randle as a plan B, that’s not likely considering their biggest need going into the offseason is a scoring wing.
The Pacers would also be an interesting spot for Randle, but they’re more likely to invest money finding a long-term backcourt mate for All-Star Victor Oladipo with rising stars Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner holding it down in the froncourt. Thaddeus Young also has a player option worth $13.7 million he’s expected to pick up.
If it’s playing time and a chance to compete in the playoffs next year Randle’s looking for, he might be best off staying put in Los Angeles. The Lakers can offer Randle his starting job back next season and an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot regardless of who else they sign in free agency.
At just 23 years old, Randle still has a ton of room to grow as a player and if last season was any indication of what’s to come for Julius, the Lakers would be wise not to let him go.
All stats were provided by stats.nba.com unless otherwise noted.