Through the first few weeks of the 2017-18 season, it was difficult to envision a scenario where the Los Angeles Lakers would re-sign Julius Randle as a restricted free agent come the summer. He was playing sparingly off the bench, seemed disgruntled, and was widely perceived as a salary cap casualty should L.A. strike gold in signing LeBron James and Paul George.
At one point Randle himself believed his time with the organization was an expiring clock. “It was hard not to kind of feel that way,” he said at Lakers exit interviews. “Not knowing if you’re going to be here or not, but I couldn’t really focus on that. I didn’t have time to focus on whether I’m going to be here or not.
“I just have time to focus on continuing to get better, grow as a player, grow as a person, because the NBA season goes by so fast. If I was dwelling on that when I had my opportunity, I could’ve missed out on it and not played as well.”
Uncertainty gave way to some clarity, and now one might be hard-pressed to see the Lakers beginning next season without Randle on their roster. He was the team’s only player to appear in 82 games this season, which head coach Luke Walton commended Randle for.
“It was good,” Randle said of meeting with Walton and Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka. “They just congratulated me on the season, individually and us growing as a team. It was good. It was short and sweet. It was good.”
Randle’s play this season more than spoke for itself. The elephant of the room, of course, is the summer when he will become a restricted free agent. The topic was broached in some part on Thursday.
“Kinda, kinda not,” answered Randle when asked if his free agency was discussed in the meeting. “They just said they’ll be in contact and talk with my agent. We’ll see what happens.”
While Randle once thought he might not have a future with the team, re-signing with the Lakers does appear to be his preference. “This is the place that drafted me, so obviously I have those ties. I love it here,” Randle said.
“Great people, great organization, front office, everybody in LA has been great. It would be amazing to be here. Hopefully both sides can come to something.”
The answer won’t come for another couple months, which makes for a bit of an unsettling feeling. “It’s a little weird,” Randle said when asked if he’d realized Thursday could be his last formal appearance as a member of the Lakers organization.
“But I feel like I’m in a good position.”