The writing on the wall for most of the 2017-18 Los Angeles Lakers season seemed to indicate that Julius Randle wasn’t long for the team. Randle wanted to prove he was worth a long-term deal, and the Lakers talked up the virtues of cap flexibility to sign stars, and eventually the two sides went their separate ways ways when the Lakers rescinded the qualifying offer to Randle — making him an unrestricted free agent — allowing him to sign a two-year deal with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has since confirmed that the Lakers let Randle go in order to keep cap space open long-term, and the tone of one of Randle’s comments during his introductory press conference in New Orleans would seem to indicate that he took that decision personally.
When asked to says something about how he’d fit into Pelicans associate head coach Darren Erman’s defense, Randle seemed to throw a bit of shade at the Lakers and their head coach, Luke Walton (via the Pelicans’ YouTube Channel):
“This is the first time in my four years of NBA experience I think I’ve done an individual skills workout, did defensive drills. So for me that says it all about how serious he is about that end and I’m excited about that, I love that challenge.”
Now, maybe this isn’t shade. Maybe the Lakers just never did work on individual defensive skill drills and did all of their defensive work in groups. But if this is a shot, it’s not one based in any particularly factual accuracy, at least if it’s implying that the Lakers didn’t prioritize defense.
For one, the Lakers team that Randle was just a part of shockingly jumped to 12th in defensive efficiency last season, while the Pelicans ranked 14th. I guess that makes Randle’s comments good news, if true, because they would then seem to infer that the Lakers could get much better were they ever to work on that end of the floor.
The problem is, we know the Lakers do work on defense. For one, a team doesn’t jump from last in the league in defensive efficiency to 12th without work, and the Lakers talked all of last training camp about how their primary focus during those practice sessions was on improving their defense.
“This year I really started to take a pride in my team playing well defensively,” he said. “And then individually taking a challenge on being able to stop guys or get big stops down the stretch. I really have taken a pride in that. I hate for teams to score or for somebody to score on me.”
Look, this might have been meant as an innocuous comment from Randle, and even if he were taking pot shots at the Lakers in the media, it would be understandable why he’d do so after the team yanked his role around all season despite almost inarguably being their best player for most of the year.
After all that, the Lakers still didn’t want to re-sign him to a multi-year deal, which from Randle’s perspective had to feel disrespectful after all his growth, hard work and contributions to the team, even if it’s totally defensible that the team would prioritize LeBron James and one-year deals so they can re-enter free agency and add another superstar next summer.
All that noted though, it’s still a bad look for Randle to go after the Lakers like this, especially after how beloved he was amongst some sections of the fan base. It might not be fun, but the high road is probably better here, because this isn’t an argument one can win in public anyway. Both sides are probably better off trying to move on and focus on the season ahead.