There have been many times in Thomas Robinson’s career that he’s lacked playing time, when his role has been to wait on the bench until the team needs him. Admittedly, he hasn’t always handled it well.
This month, two of the Lakers’ veteran role players have helped the 25-year-old reserve forward come to terms with it.
Point guards Marcelo Huertas and Jose Calderon have taken Robinson into their group. Robinson now regularly joins in the extra work they do outside practice. It’s a way for all three players to give themselves the work they don’t get in games, and to stay in shape and ready.
“They come in early; I’m usually there with them,” Robinson said. “Those guys … they helped me mature. [Coach] Luke [Walton] has noticed it, but it’s because I’ve been watching guys like that. [They’re] older than me, [they’ve] put in a lot more work than me. If they can deal with it, I can.”
In late November, parts of December and into early January, as the Lakers worked through injuries, Robinson frequently saw his minutes enter the teens.
As the Lakers got more healthy, though, and saw opportunities for more time for the young big men they’d like to develop, Robinson’s playing time dwindled. He hasn’t played in the last five games. Often, he isn’t even active for games.
That’s also where Calderon and Huertas often find themselves. The bulk of the Lakers’ playing time at point guard goes to starter D’Angelo Russell. Rookie Brandon Ingram, who played the position growing up despite his size (6 feet 9), is often the second point guard in.
Sometimes, though, the Lakers find themselves in need of their reserves. After four games without any playing time, Huertas entered Friday night’s game against the Boston Celtics in the third quarter. Walton raved about his preparedness.
“You’re a professional,” Huertas said. “… The mind can trick you. But you gotta stay strong and you gotta always be ready. You never know when the chance is going to come, and then when it comes you gotta be ready.”
That’s a message Robinson has taken to heart.
Asked whether his lack of playing time had been difficult lately, Robinson said, “Yes, because I’m a competitor. But as far as the team goes, whatever Coach Luke’s decisions have been, I’m completely happy for it. I just know I’m going to be ready whenever my name’s called. So it really doesn’t matter if I’m out there for two or 30 minutes. It was just natural. I’m following their lead. Jose and Celo got years on me.”
Forward Julius Randle practiced with the team for the first time since being diagnosed with pneumonia on Jan. 28.
“He seemed great,” Walton said. “Energy was high. We had 15 guys so we had three teams of five, and they were constantly going. He looked like his stamina was better than I would have guessed.”
Randle has not played in three of the Lakers’ last four games. He played while feeling ill on Jan. 25, then did not play Jan. 26 while feeling sick, before his condition was diagnosed. After sitting out a Jan. 31 home victory over the Denver Nuggets, he logged only six minutes Thursday against the Wizards at Washington, then did not play in Friday’s game at Boston despite being cleared and active.
Walton said Randle would be fully available for Monday’s game against the New York Knicks but the coach added he didn’t know whether Randle would start.
Days off in New York
The Lakers had two nights off in New York before Monday’s game, and while Walton wanted his players to enjoy the city, he did talk to his young team about being smart with the time off.
“We want the guys going out to dinner and having fun, but also make sure we know we’re here for business,” Walton said. “It’s about getting sleep, it’s about being rested, taking care of your body.”
He took as a sign they might have heeded the message that the players did a weight-room workout together before practice. They also got some bonding time Sunday. They watched the Super Bowl together.
AT NEW YORK KNICKS
When: 4 p.m. Monday
Where: Madison Square Garden
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.
Records: Lakers 17-36; Knicks 22-29
Record vs. Knicks: 0-1
Update: What Lakers Coach Luke Walton remembers most about the Lakers’ last meeting against the Knicks was the way Kristaps Porzingis dominated the game defensively. Porzingis had 26 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the Knicks’ 118-112 win on Dec.11.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli