After a rollercoaster of a season that saw fourth-year forward and 2018 NBA free agent Julius Randle go from likely cast-off for salary cap space to arguably the best player on the Los Angeles Lakers, head coach Luke Walton is hopeful for more seasons together.
“Julius is a big part of what we accomplished this year. I think continuity is a big thing for us. Obviously, yes, I would love to have Julius back next year,” Walton said on the second day of Lakers exit interviews.
“There’s other factors that go into that, but from a coaching standpoint, I would love to have Julius back,” Walton said during his exit interview. Randle said during his own final session with the local media that he would love to be back with the team.
Randle wanting to return was never a guarantee, especially given his up-and-down start to the season, but Walton said that after a rough beginning that saw him bring Randle off of the bench, the coach and his burly big man came to an understanding.
“We did not agree on things earlier in the year, and later in the year too. But because that trust was there, it ended up being great. For him and for the team,” Walton explained.
“He grew up a lot this year. When you have players with the type of potential Julius and some of our other young guys have, they need to be challenged to push themselves to be great or take their game to the next level.”
Randle came into training camp in phenomenal shape, and translated it into a career-best season that saw him average a career-and-team-high 16.1 points per game on a similarly career-best 55.3 percent shooting.
And while Walton did feel that Randle had to be pushed at times this year, he wanted to make it known that Randle was ultimately solely responsible for that growth. “He did all of that on his own. He deserves all the credit. He committed himself this past offseason and showed up in better shape than he’s ever been,” Walton said.
“He took the opportunity that he had and he owned it. Every single night he was coming off the bench as our backup five and dominating other backup fives. He continued to play at that level when we threw him in the starting lineup.
“There was a couple struggles early on with that change to the lineup, but he earned everything he got this year. I’m happy for him, I’m excited for how his offseason is going to play out.”
If the offseason results in Randle coming back to L.A., Walton will be happy not just to have a good player return, but also someone whose growth he thought illustrated exactly the type of culture the Lakers are trying to build.
“I think it was great for both of us,” Walton said. “That’s why I put a huge value within the culture as far as relationships and being in coaching for those relationships, for trying to help players get better and live their ultimate dream out.
“When you have those type of relationships, I think you can truly challenge people, and they should be able to challenge you back. I think that was a perfect example of Julius and I.”