Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”
Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.
“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”
That marketplace is expected to include the Lakers. They’ll make him a qualifying offer in order to retain his rights in free agency. Then Randle, whom the Lakers drafted seventh overall in 2014, will become a restricted free agent once the league year ends. The Lakers must wait, just like the rest of the league, to offer him a contract on July 1.
It’s possible the Lakers and Randle reach an agreement with which both sides are comfortable before he seriously considers offers from other teams. Randle enjoys being a Laker and would like to return. But even if he doesn’t accept the Lakers’ offer, the team will have the option to match any offer sheet he signs.
What contributes to the uncertainty is that the Lakers have been saving salary-cap space for this summer and next in order to take advantage of robust free-agent markets, and they know it will take two stars to once again become a championship contender. It’s unlikely they could add two free agents on maximum contracts without renouncing their rights to Randle.
Pelinka said he does not have an upper-limit figure in mind for Randle.
“I think going into a process with kind of a position of entrenchment or here’s the thin red line that we will not cross isn’t necessarily the best way to approach something with an open-mindedness,” Pelinka said. “I think any negotiation is between two sides. Ultimately you’re hoping to find a partnership.”
Heading into the 2017-18 season, the team was unsure of Randle’s future in the organization. They asked him to reduce his body fat, and he impressed everyone in the organization with his dedication to meeting those expectations.
“The work that he put into it is what people don’t see and I think it was an enormous effort on his part,” Pelinka said. “The fact that it worked and translated to being one of his best seasons as a Lakers player really was not only great for him individually but was great for other guys to see, ‘Hey if we put in that work and you change your body it leads to good things for your performance.’ So I think that was an amazing process for us to see.”
But when the Lakers had the option of extending Randle’s contract by an October 2017 deadline, they didn’t make him an offer. The Lakers were unwilling to add any salary last summer that went beyond the 2017-18 season.
It rankled Randle, who came to a game at one point this season wearing a sweatshirt that said “pay me” on it.
Then, Randle lost his starting job, a role he’d held for most of the time he’d played for the team.
That took some adjusting, but once he did, Randle caught the Lakers’ attention again.
Coming off the bench, he began to dominate other backup centers. When he worked his way back into the Lakers’ starting lineup, he became a force. Randle learned how to harness his tough, physical style and use it to bully opponents on the court. His patience and understanding of opposing defenses helped him stay more locked into games.
Randle was the only Lakers player who played in all 82 games, and even played with a broken finger from January through the end of the season.
The Lakers weren’t the only team that noticed Randle’s improvement. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Randle’s mastery of the hybrid center/forward position made him the kind of guy “everybody is trying to find.”
It caught the attention of teams around the league, and could lead to another team offering more than the Lakers will be able to match.
Randle would like to return.
“This is the place that drafted me, so obviously I have those ties,” Randle said during his exit interview in April. “I love it here. … It’ll be amazing to be here and hopefully both sides can come to something.”
For now it’s just that — hope.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli