EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — It was just last year that Julius Randle walked into a new spot, looked around at a bunch of new dudes and soon enough established himself as the best player on the team.
So it goes for guys who are inherently bigger, stronger and better. Randle has claimed his turf time and again in basketball gyms at varying levels. Amid all the other much-hyped recruits at the University of Kentucky, it was no different.
Randle had his introductory news conference at the Los Angeles Lakers’ training facility Monday, still doing interviews in the gym as Robert Sacre and Xavier Henry were beginning individual workouts. With two of the Lakers’ filler players from their forgettable last season as a backdrop—Sacre the last guy picked in the 2012 NBA draft, Henry a typical post-hype reclamation project whose inconsistency and injuries were emblematic of the team—it was a stark reminder that Randle will immediately be expected to be one of the best guys on this squad too.
And if it wasn’t clear enough, Randle sat down next to the Lakers’ Spanish TV play-by-play announcer, Adrian Garcia Marquez, for a fun interview on the team’s Spanish-language regional network.
Garcia Marquez adds punch to his broadcasts with emphatic nicknames for the Lakers’ top players, none done with higher energy than “El Macho” for main man Kobe Bryant. Garcia Marquez already had a nickname all lined up for the smooth, older-looking-than-his-years Lakers draft pick: “Don Julio.”
Garcia Marquez asked Randle to read some one-liners in Spanish using his new nickname, including this awesome one:
“No Dwight, Don Julio es tu padre.”
It was just two years ago that Dwight Howard entered the Lakers’ world, got the same giddy greeting from Jim Buss and the grand tour of the NBA championship trophies in the office of Jeanie Buss—and disappointment ensued on every level. The expectations for Randle are completely different from those that awaited Howard, which is why we can joke about Randle being Howard’s father.
But young Julius’ arrival is pretty much the first thing Lakers fans have had to get excited about post-Dwight.
Jim and Jeanie’s father, Jerry, is gone now. And Jim’s role as basketball decision-maker was on greater display on this mostly cloudy L.A. day, the audience filled with Jim’s people, including daughters Micaela and Milahna bringing Randle’s No. 30 jersey into the press conference and posing for photos with him afterward.
Jim Buss had said to Randle at the start of the events Monday: “Congratulations. Welcome to the family.”
It was not a small-time gathering, with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak in a rare full-suited appearance. Although Randle offered little new information after all the coverage of his draft selection Thursday, one interesting quote came from Kupchak—and it wasn’t so much the words as the conviction behind them.
Kupchak noted that Randle, 19, is “younger than most players who come into the NBA.” Yet Kupchak was unwavering about how surely Randle would work and compete to establish himself on this level.
“He’s going to earn it,” Kupchak said. “That’s what he did at Kentucky.”
Randle said the pressure to win in his one year as NCAA runner-up at Kentucky prepared him for similar demands with the Lakers. His plans are to “reach my full potential” for himself and “getting back to winning” for the Lakers.
Randle was late to his press conference Monday because he was getting medical exams done, and the Lakers remain optimistic on that front. Kupchak said the team should have a final decision toward the end of the week on leaving Randle’s surgically repaired right foot alone.
Randle intends to play for the Lakers’ NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas, and the team’s first practice is next Monday. It will likely be led by Lakers player development coach Mark Madsen, whose tenacity against Randle in his June 17 predraft workout was matched by the new draft pick—answering any lingering questions for Buss and Kupchak about Randle’s fire.
Come late September, the Lakers will assemble a real team for next season, and we’ll see just where Randle fits in then. However, their free-agency plan is to invest only in guys who can make the team an immediate title contender, as they’d hoped with Howard, and otherwise be willing to wait.
In that case, even if Randle isn’t Howard, the Lakers very much needed something as real and promising as he is.
Hope cannot live on desperation shots from past-prime Chris Kaman and unmotivated Wesley Johnson alone.
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.