Lakers pick Julius Randle at No. 7, could go after top free agents
The Lakers haven’t yet secured a meeting with LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony.
They might sit down with one of them. Or both. Or neither when free agency begins next week.
Without mentioning either player by name, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said the team would go “all out,” if given the green light to woo them.
“If any of those players do want to make a move, we’re prepared,” Kupchak said Thursday. “Every situation’s unique. We’re still going to pitch that this is a championship franchise and that’s going to be our goal. As long as Kobe [Bryant] is on this team, we have to believe that we can contend for a championship.”
Kupchak acknowledged that elite free agents might have to take pay cuts to fit into the Lakers’ cramped salary structure. They have already committed more than $37 million of next season’s projected $63-million salary cap to Bryant, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and rookie Julius Randle, whom they took with the seventh overall pick in Thursday’s draft.
Anthony would have made $23.3 million and James would have made $20 million next season. James was also under contract for about $23 million in 2015-16.
In addition to steep pay cuts the duo would need to take, the Lakers would be longshots to sign them both because of their aging roster and 27-55 record last season. But Bryant could become part of the recruiting process, Kupchak said.
“I would not be surprised if Kobe reaches out or if free agents reach out to Kobe,” Kupchak said.
Randle’s their man
Old rivalries don’t die. They just bleed into the draft when two teams are sagging.
Lakers executives were on edge in their draft room while the Boston Celtics pondered the sixth overall pick Thursday.
When it was revealed to be Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, the Lakers’ brass burst out in excitement, smiles all around.
It allowed them to take power forward Randle with their highest selection on draft night in 32 years.
The Lakers were worried Boston would nab Randle, a double-double machine in one year at Kentucky.
Randle is a Zach Randolph clone, slightly undersized for the position but seemingly always producing. He’s also fearless, saying after a recent high-energy workout for the Lakers that he doesn’t care if Bryant is tough on rookies.
Bryant weighed in on Twitter after the pick, welcoming Randle in the transition from “one legendary institution to one epic franchise.”
Randle was measured at only 6 feet 9 in sneakers and at 250 pounds. Another possible reason he slipped to seventh was his right foot.
He had surgery 18 months ago, Kupchak said, to heal a high school injury and could need a follow-up procedure this summer to have a screw removed.
“They might want to do a surgery, but I’m not sure,” Randle said. “I know if I do a surgery, I’ll be ready way before the start of the season, by training camp.”
Kupchak didn’t seem worried, saying a procedure wouldn’t affect Randle’s career.
Randle might already be learning the pecking order, acting deferentially to Bryant in a conference call with reporters after being drafted.
“It’s going to be amazing,” he said. “He was always my idol, my favorite player growing up and now I have a chance to pick his brain and learn a lot from him. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
The Lakers did not have their own second-round selection (36th overall) because of the Nash trade, so they spent $1.8 million to buy the 46th overall pick from the Washington Wizards. They took Jordan Clarkson, a 6-foot-5 point guard from Missouri who showed scoring touch as a junior until an end-of-season shooting slump.
“We thought he might be gone mid-first round, so to get a guy like that at 46, we’re pleased,” Kupchak said.
Clarkson and returning point guard Kendall Marshall both have nonguaranteed contracts next season.
The Lakers still haven’t hired a coach since Mike D’Antoni resigned April 30 but they may be getting closer.
Kupchak declined to say whether Byron Scott was a front-runner over Lionel Hollins and Mike Dunleavy.
“We may continue to interview [other] people,” Kupchak said.
Alvin Gentry also interviewed for the Lakers’ job but took the associate head-coaching job with Golden State. Kurt Rambis interviewed with the Lakers as well but was expected to join New York’s staff.
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