- The Los Angeles Lakers are “very unlikely” to keep forward Julius Randle beyond this season, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The Lakers could be major players in free agency next summer and would love to have the salary cap space to sign two max free agents. Randle could net a nice return on the trade market on his own, but the team may instead use him to help unload one of their expensive veterans, such as Luol Deng.
Slowly but surely, the Los Angeles Lakers’ plan for a return to relevance is beginning to take shape.
Next summer’s free agent class will be a talented one, and the Lakers seem to have a goal of being major buyers. The team was fined for tampering with the Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George this past summer, and rumors that LeBron James wants to leave Cleveland for California have been swirling for months.
Adding two superstar free agents would go a long way toward redeeming a franchise that has gone just 96-243 since the start of the 2013-14 season, but money may complicate things. With next season’s salary cap projected in the neighborhood of $108 million, the Lakers won’t be able to afford a second max free agent if they hold onto their current assets.
Now, thanks to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, we have an idea of who will be sent packing to make room for more talent: forward Julius Randle, one of Los Angeles’ best players.
Wojnarowski relayed the information while appearing on the sideline before Wednesday’s game between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics, saying that Randle is “very unlikely” to return after this season.
Randle was drafted seventh overall in 2014 and has become a solid player, with career numbers of 12.1 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game, and a PER of 15.2. However, the Kentucky product will carry a $12.4 million cap hold in restricted free agency next summer, making it difficult to envision a scenario in which the Lakers can afford both him and their top targets on the open market.
Wojnarowski said that the Lakers will examine their options for getting rid of Randle.
“Rob Pelinka, their general manager, and Magic Johnson, their president, will be faced with this question: do they look to trade Randle between now and the February trade deadline and get back potentially a first-round draft pick for him, or do they roll the dice and wait until summer when he’s a restricted free agent?” he said.
The 22-year-old Randle could net a nice return in a trade. Bigger players are being squeezed out of the modern NBA, but there will still be plenty of interest in a former blue chipper who can crash the boards, handle the ball around the perimeter, and make the heads-up play. As Wojnarowski mentioned, he could even net a first-round pick, though almost certainly not from a lottery team. The Lakers could also use Randle to help unload the veteran forward Luol Deng, who has no place on their next contending team.
On the other hand, it might be smarter for the Lakers to hold onto Randle until they see how next summer plays out. Los Angeles will always be a prime basketball destination, but the team’s performance over the last half-decade can’t be encouraging for pending free agents. What’s more, the new super-teams in Oklahoma City and Minnesota are proof that a big market is not a prerequisite for success or stardom.
While nothing is imminent, Randle will certainly be a big name to watch as the February 8 trade deadline nears. He and the Lakers will play their next game on Thursday against the Washington Wizards.