Julius Randle will never get used to it.
That part of NBA life that means one day you’ll show up to work and a man who’s become your friend, your brother, isn’t there anymore.
“You don’t get used to guys that you build relationships with just up and leaving,” Randle said this week. “I don’t think you get used to it but you understand it’s a part of business.”
It could have been him. But the NBA’s trade deadline passed on Thursday and Randle remained a Laker. And the likelihood of him remaining with the team after this season became better than it was a week before.
Teammates Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the Lakers’ efforts to increase their salary cap space. Clarkson and Randle both became Lakers on draft night in 2014. Nance joined them the next year.
With all that was swirling around in the hours leading up to the trade deadline, Randle insisted he didn’t have nerves about his own future.
“I didn’t care,” he said. “I was just grateful for whatever happened. I’ve been prepared for that all year. The last few hours didn’t matter. Whatever happened, happened. I’ve heard my name in trade rumors all year and it hasn’t affected me. Why would I let it affect me the last couple hours?”
Randle was part of the Lakers’ offer last year to the Indiana Pacers for Paul George. He was shopped around the league this season but the Lakers weren’t giving him away. Nor were they aggressive in their conversations.
They had salary-shedding needs and any team that wanted Randle would need to help with that. Randle is on the final year of his rookie deal after which he’ll be a restricted free agent. So even teams interested in him after his resurgence the past few months recognized the danger in giving up too much for a player headed into restricted free agency.
As this season began, Randle’s future with the Lakers was very much in doubt. Even though Randle worked to sculpt his body in the offseason, coach Luke Walton didn’t start the 6-9 forward at first. He initially struggled to handle the demotion.
Once he adjusted, he became a force for the Lakers and made himself invaluable. Randle’s scoring average has increased each month, reaching 20.4 points so far in February. As a result he’s started the past 22 games and is averaging 17.2 points and nine rebounds in that role. He was a big part of why the Lakers beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Feb. 4 and their 12-5 stretch since early January.
“I love the way Julius is playing right now,” said Magic Johnson, Lakers president of basketball operations. “This is the best I’ve ever seen him play.”
This summer the Lakers are likely to make him a qualifying offer, which will allow them to retain his rights. They would then have the right to match any offer sheet he’s given. Unless they renounce their rights to Randle, there will be a hold on the Lakers’ salary cap for $12.4 million. That’s cap space they wouldn’t be able to use to sign a marquee free agent.
They might not need the cap space this offseason. They also might decide Randle is part of their future.
“Yeah I would love to be here long term,” Randle said. “I’ve said all year, the front office is going to do what is best for them. I can’t really focus on that, I can only focus on my preparation, how I play and my effort.”
Last week he crossed one hurdle on the path to the Lakers’ future.