LOS ANGELES — In what’s been a huge adjustment to a newfound bench role this season, Los Angeles Lakers fourth-year forward Julius Randle received his first start of the season on Friday night against the L.A. Clippers.
The decision to insert him into the starting lineup at center in place of the injured Brook Lopez was announced less than an hour prior to the tipoff as part of the latest lineup shuffle attempt by head coach Luke Walton to jump-start his team in the right direction.
Randle made the most of his start tallying 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field with seven rebounds in 29 minutes played. He also led the team in scoring at the half with 13 points as the first player to reach double figures. Following the 121-106 loss, he voiced much appreciation for getting the start that also had the sense of some subtle personal frustration about his situation.
“It’s an honor,” Randle said. “Playing time in the NBA is very precious, so it was an honor.”
The move back into the starting lineup didn’t exactly translate to the Lakers having much overall success on the court defensively as they never led in the contest trailing as much as 18 points while allowing the Clippers to record 121 points.
Following the game, Walton voiced that he felt the lineup change was his way of rewarding Randle for his strong play this season while also hoping to shake things up for his injury-ridden team.
“Well we’ve been losing games and Julius has been great for us this whole season, so we wanted to give him a chance in there,” Walton said. ” If we had won five out of six we probably would have kept it how it is. I think he’s done a phenomenal job in his role in coming off the bench for us, but due to injuries and due to the fact that we’ve been losing, we might as well try some new things and see how they work. I thought he played hard tonight. I thought he had a nice game.”
Randle has been productive off the bench this season entering Friday’s game averaging 12.5 points on a career-high 55.2 percent shooting from the field with 6.3 rebounds in 22.0 minutes per contest in the first 33 games. Despite that, it hasn’t resulted in consistent playing time for the 23-year-old as his minutes have continually fluctuated.
It also hasn’t helped the Lakers play over the last couple of weeks losing 10 of 13 games in the month of December including a current five-game skid. This had even boiled over into a team meeting on Thursday that Walton voiced prior to Friday’s tilt was a “unique” and “creative” way for the team to grow. However, all of this couldn’t help but shift the focus once again on Randle’s future with the team that has come the center of attention in trade rumors over the last week.
Much of that noise began to arise after he played just eight minutes in the 122-116 win over the Houston Rockets on Dec. 20. This also saw reports surface that there were talks about Randle being moved to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Nerlens Noel before he went down with an injury.
Even though this chatter has grown louder, he has continued to keep a singular focus on getting the most of what he can control on the court.
“I just try to stay locked in,” Randle said. “Control what I can. Just play hard and just get the most from what I got.”
With the trade deadline still a few weeks away, this talk around the team could continue to persist with the Lakers’ season steadily heading south. The only thing that’s clear at this point in time is what Randle’s mindset will be through this ever-growing outside noise.