Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle was arguably the team’s best player this season, but as a restricted free agent in a year the front office has been rumored to want to chase stars like LeBron James and Paul George, his return is far from a guarantee.
Still, in potentially his final exit interview as a member of the Lakers, Randle made it clear he’d like to be back. “This is the place that drafted me, so obviously I have ties to this place and I love it here,” he said.
“It would be amazing to be here, and hopefully both sides can come to something. That’s far away, but we’ll see.”
Randle wanting a reunion didn’t seem as likely early on in the season, when he was somewhat unexpectedly coming off the bench behind Larry Nance Jr. or as a small-ball center, but he stayed focused on improving his own game and was able to battle through that bout of adversity.
“I couldn’t have seen or prepared for the start of the season. I think it made me kind of who I am as a person, as a player, and helped me grow. As the season went along I just got better and better. More confident,” Randle explained.
“Once I finally settled into my role, coming off the bench, I just continued to get better from that role.”
That increased confidence helped Randle force his way back into the starting lineup and allowed him to average careers highs in points (16.1) and field-goal percentage (55.8 percent) while playing the best defense of his career as a versatile, switch-everything center.
Still, when extension talks with the Lakers broke down last October, he wasn’t really surprised, saying he “kind of expected” those discussions not to go anywhere.
“I just hope I showed the type of growth that I can continue to have. I feel like there is so much room for me to continue to grow,” Randle added.
Whether that growth will continue with the L.A. won’t be determined until the summer, but Randle did everything he could to make his case to return. After a “short and sweet” talk with president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general Rob Pelinka, he knows that the decision is out of his hands.
“They just said they’ll be in contact and talks with my agent,” Randle said.