The Los Angeles Lakers’ plans to go after big names like LeBron James and Paul George in free agency next summer is one of the worst-kept secrets in the NBA, if it’s even a secret at all.
Right now the team projects to have around $35 million in cap space entering the 2018 free agency period, but they could generate a lot more were they to move on from players like Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Luol Deng, the latter two of whom are owed large money beyond this season.
Randle is different, because the 2014 lottery pick is in the final year of his rookie deal and seems unlikely to be extended by the Lakers before the Oct. 16 deadline to do so.
As such, Randle is a $12.3 million cap hold on the Lakers’ books next summer that, if renounced, would give the team nearly $50 million in cap space. That type of situation could put a lot of pressure on a player to succeed in a contract year, but Randle told Bill Oram of the Orange County Register he isn’t worried about that:
“How they value me is how they value me,” said Randle, who scored 13 points in the Lakers’ fourth exhibition loss in five tries. “I can’t really sit here and say what they’re trying to do […] I don’t really focus on it,” he said. “I feel like the work I put in speaks for itself.”
Randle’s work has spoken more loudly since he was moved to the bench in favor of Larry Nance Jr. In two games as a reserve, Randle has average 15 points, which would rank second on the team during the preseason behind only rookie power forward Kyle Kuzma. Randle is also leading the Lakers in rebounds per game (7.6) and steals (1.8) as his new level of fitness allows him to more-seamlessly glide around the floor than he has in past seasons.
It’s the type of play that leaves the Lakers with a conundrum. They obviously can’t extend Randle if they want to keep their dreams of the most possible cap space alive, because his $12.3 million cap hold is still significantly less than he and his camp would likely be asking for in an annual extension.
If Randle continues to play this well and look like a core piece worth keeping around it will create a dillemma for the Lakers, but it would be a welcome problem for the team. They would still have the option to match any offer Randle receives in restricted free agency next summer, so the proverbial ball is still in their court here. Randle may just make things a little harder on the front office than previously expected.