Heading into 2018 NBA free agency, there was an expectation that Julius Randle would not learn his fate with the Los Angeles Lakers until other — namely Paul George and LeBron James — dominos fell.
The Lakers made the first move, one that was anticipated, by extending a qualifying offer to Randle and making him a restricted free agent. The first shoe of free agency quickly fell as George immediately agreed to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The following day, the Lakers came to terms with James on a four-year, $153 million. Then deals were in place with Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee
During that time the Lakers were also connected to trade speculation involving disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Meanwhile, Randle’s future continued to hang in the balance.
He reportedly asked the Lakers to rescind their qualifying offer, which they obliged, and Randle agreed to a contract with the New Orleans Pelicans not long after Rajon Rondo did the same with the Lakers.
How much animosity may exist between Randle and the Lakers may never be known. But at an introductory press conference with the Pelicans he intimated that assistant coach Darren Erman takes a more aggressive approach to defense than the Lakers did:
“This is the first time, I think in my four years of NBA experience that I think I’ve done an individual skills workout, did defensive drills. For me, that says it all about how serious he is about that end. And I’m excited about that. I love that challenge.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton and Randle have both gone on record over how much time the team spent on defense — both during training camp and in-season practices.
The caveat to Randle’s remarks at the press conference are that he specifically mentioned individual work, which the Lakers may not have been as focused on. It isn’t necessarily a slight, but Walton would often discuss working on defense as a group.
Semantics aside, Randle and the Lakers made noticeable strides on that end of the floor this past season. The Lakers finished with the 12th-ranked defense, which Walton said was his proudest accomplishment.
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