Los Angeles, CA- The playoffs are fast approaching, the wild wild western conference teams are in a bubble from 3 to 10 with only a 1.5 margin between the 7 teams. Currently, the Los Angeles Lakers stand in 11th place and about 7 games behind the final playoff spot. But it has been a feel good story for the youthful Lakers, despite struggling in the first few months of the regular season and once upon a time losing 9 straight home games and hearing boos from the staples center crowd. The team has bounced back winning 11 of it’s 12 home games and has won 18 of its last 27 games since the start of the new year. One big reason for this resurgence is Coach Luke Walton’s decision to bring 4th year forward Julius Randle off the bench. When the season started he was buried behind Larry Nance Jr., (now traded to the Cavs) and rookie sensation Kyle Kuzma who was at one point the Lakers leading scorer. Since starting 33 games out of the 66 played this season, the 4th year man has been averaging 19 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assist per game for the month of February and 23 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assist for the month of March including a monster performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers when he dropped a career high 36 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assist. After the game Coach Ty Lue of the Cavs simply said: “we have no answer for Randle, he bullied us the whole night”.
The Lakers could have up to $70 million in cap space this summer if they renounce their rights to Julius Randle, who will be a restricted free agent July 1, as well as waive and then stretch the salary cap hit of Luol Deng, who is making $18 million a year and has not played since the season opener. Maximum contracts can range from $25.5 million to $35.7 million per year depending on a player’s experience. But here’s the dilemma, the Lakers have a superstar in the making in Julius Randle. So now the big question is how can the Lakers sign Paul George, Lebron James and now Julius Randle? Do you really want a 33 year old Lebron James to play for the Lakers who have an averaged age of 25 years old and one of the 5 youngest teams in the NBA? Lebron is Lebron but the Lakers can sign Paul George who is only 27 years old (28 this May) and offer a qualifying offer to Randle (The qualifying offer is binding as a one-year contract. If the player signs it, he’s under contract for next season. He could also sign an offer sheet from another team (which his team would have the ability to match), and he and his team could agree on a new, multi-year contract. The team also has the ability to rescind the qualifying offer going forward.) If the Lakers decide to go this route, by signing one superstar in the name of Paul George and re-signing Julius Randle and keep the kids. Then the Lakers can wait one more year and sign one more superstar with the likes of Klay Thompson (UNRESTRICTED), Kahwi Leonard and Jimmy Butler (both PLAYER OPTION).
Lakers President for Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka has made smart decisions since assuming office. The Lakers are on the right track and moving in the right direction, the development of Ingram, Kuzma, Ball and Hart will be important if they are looking to make the playoffs next season. The Lakers have a dilemma. Although it’s not worse than you think, knowing that one of the three players you’re hoping to sign is currently playing for your team.
If I can be the Lakers GM for one day, I say let’s try and sign Paul George, keep Randle and hope we sign Thompson or Leonard 2019 and make the finals 2020! LAKER NATION? Your thoughts?
Julius Randle Cover Photo/Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images