One criticism that’s been levied against the Los Angeles Lakers even before Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka (though they’ve apparently continued the tradition) has been the vibe with people they don’t consider a part of the plans. Basically, some feel as if you’re either in or you’re out.
Brook Lopez showed seemed to show frustration over this trend when benched late in games. D’Angelo Russell had plenty of dirt kicked on him as he was sent packing. Hell, say what you will about Luol Deng’s contract, but it didn’t make much sense that he couldn’t get any time on the court last year given how ravaged the team was by injuries. This trend is no new phenomenon.
How things went down in Julius Randle’s free agency and a chunk of his last year with the Lakers back up the same sentiment, and University of Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne painted that type of picture when speaking to William Guillory of the Athletic (h/t Sports Out West):
“What he went through with the Lakers was hard for him. He wanted to play great there. He wanted to be a Laker,” Payne said. “It took a while for him to accept that things just weren’t going to work out and there was nothing he could do about it.”
Of all the moves that had people scratching their heads this summer (Hi, Lance), not retaining Randle is easily the most frustrating. So when you hear people talk about how this front office managed to keep the young core together and still get rid of Luol Deng’s contract, just mention how Randle will be impressing quite a few folks alongside Anthony Davis next season.
Now, this is just one side of the story and I’m sure someone from the Lakers end of things might remember stuff a little differently, but it’s worth looking back on how Randle was treated early last season. It was maddening how evident it had become that he deserved more minutes and yet wasn’t being rewarded for any of his hard work.
As the season rolled along, Randle forced his way into a bigger role in the rotation and the hope was that maybe he had carved out a spot for himself in the Lakers’ plans moving forward. Based on what his old assistant coach said and the way things played out in free agency (remember, Aaron Mintz publicly wondered about Randle’s standing with the Lakers), it would seem that despite all that hard work and proving himself throughout the season, the writing was on the wall and Randle was all but shown the door.
Before you point to his potential cap hit next year, Randle is almost certainly going to opt out of his player option worth $9 million at season’s end in the hopes of a longer commitment from someone (maybe even New Orleans). No matter what team it is, the one thing we do know is that it won’t be the Lakers.