Randle might be something for Lakers

 

Los Angeles Times

There are murmurs, nothing serious, because it's only July and this is the NBA's summer league, not the last 30 games of the regular season.

But talk to people in the Los Angeles Lakers' organization, and they realize first-round draft pick Julius Randle isn't really in game shape.

How could he be? He missed more than three months of competitive basketball. Spent more time with foot specialists than basketball coaches. Didn't even sign with the Lakers until a few days ago because they were temporarily conserving money to offer more to Carmelo Anthony (he said no thanks) and Pau Gasol (him too).

But Randle's lack of basketball activity since the NCAA championship also leads to different murmuring, whispering, buzzing.

Just wait until he's in shape, they say. And has a chance to study the offense. And settles in the city of Los Angeles.

Because of minor concerns about his right foot, which ended up not needing follow-up surgery from a procedure done while he was in high school, Randle barely even played two-on-two when the Lakers worked him out last month. He primarily went one-on-one against assistant coaches Mark Madsen or Larry Lewis.

It was ... feisty. It was the first thing Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak mentioned when the team formally introduced Randle a few days after drafting him.

Madsen, who played nine years in the NBA, three with the Lakers as a scrappy, sometimes physical backup, offered a smile when asked about it this week.

"I know what it's like to sit there and try to guard him one-on-one" he said. "You can't. Julius is a matchup nightmare for people."

Ognjen Kuzmic probably would concur. He was a second-round pick of Golden State in 2012.

He had four fouls in 18 minutes while trying to help guard Randle in Monday's summer league game. On one play, Lakers point guard Kendall Marshall dropped the ball off to Randle near midcourt, allowing him to dribble it upcourt, size up Kuzmic and go right at him.

Kuzmic, a seven-footer, didn't look thrilled.

Randle, listed at 6 feet 9, had no problem blowing past him but missed the layup.

Earlier in the game, as Randle set up near the top of the free-throw line, Kuzmic put a hand on Randle's right hip. Randle slapped it away.

Kuzmic did it again. Randle slapped it away again.

The next words came from a referee: "Knock it off, both of you!"

Randle, fearless? Indeed.

The night he was drafted, he said he didn't care that Kobe Bryant had a reputation for being hard on rookies.

He has little regard for his body as he plays basketball, throwing it every which way.

Against the Warriors, he twice took a defensive rebound, steamrolled upcourt and hurtled toward the basket, one observer saying it reminded him of Lamar Odom, and not just because they're both left-handed.

Neither one of the above forays ended successfully. The Lakers didn't care. They liked the aggressiveness from the power forward.

"I'd rather have, like (John) Wooden used to say, an error of commission rather than an error of omission," said Madsen, who is coaching the Lakers' summer league team with Lewis.

Randle, though, doesn't want any errors.

He had five turnovers against Golden State and didn't like a Warriors basket in overtime, slamming the ball hard to himself on the court. Then he missed a free throw and hung his head.

"You've got to have a competitive fire the whole game," Randle said. "But as the game goes on and goes into crunch time, you've got to take it up another level."

Just for clarification, he was talking about a summer league game.

Randle's outside shot is good, not great, something that needs to change or else teams will start sagging off him, cognizant of his dribbling ability. And there's that get-in-shape thing.

"My wind was a lot better (Monday). Physically, I felt great in how I was moving and stuff," he said.

Randle should have plenty of time to show what he can do while orbiting the "nucleus" of the aging Bryant and injury-prone Steve Nash.

The Lakers are eager to see it after striking out on Anthony and Gasol. It hasn't been a great summer so far for them, meaning the fall and winter might be just as brutal.

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