Are the Los Angeles Lakers setting Julius Randle up for success?
After using the No. 7 pick of the 2014 NBA draft to select the 19-year-old power forward from Dallas, the Lakers have just kept adding pieces that might end up stealing minutes away from him. The frontcourt rotation is growing more crowded by the day, with Carlos Boozer emerging as the latest addition.
Once the Chicago Bulls decided to use the amnesty clause on their veteran 4, opening up space for Pau Gasol and the rest of the bigs both on and soon to be on the Windy City roster, the Lakers submitted the highest waiver claim, as reported by USA Today's Sam Amick.
All of a sudden, there's another body competing with Randle.
Will this hinder his development in any way?
A Crowded Frontcourt
The Lakers entered the post-draft portion of the offseason with a boatload of backcourt prospects.
Not only was Kobe Bryant set to return from his latest major injury, but Steve Nash also remained under contract and was joined by second-round draft pick Jordan Clarkson. Oh, and Kendall Marshall was still on the roster at the time, though he's since been waived.
To top that off, the Lakers agreed to an extension with Nick Young, presumably with the intent of allowing him to fill in the small forward spot that he played so admirably in during the 2013-14 campaign. They also traded for Jeremy Lin without sending back any current players to the Houston Rockets, giving them a literal handful of natural guards.
But now, the big men seem to be forming an even more crowded part of the rotation, even if the summer began with only Robert Sacre under contract.
General manager Mitch Kupchak selected Julius Randle at No. 7 in the 2014 NBA draft, making him the first lottery pick by the franchise since Andrew Bynum and the first single-digit selection since James Worthy went No. 1 in 1982.
Since then, the team has agreed to extend Jordan Hill, giving him a two-year contract worth $9 million per season, although there's a team option for the second year. The Lake Show has also come to terms with Ed Davis, handing the 25-year-old big man a two-year, $2 million deal.
However, that wasn't it.
Boozer was the most recent addition, picked up on waivers after the Bulls used the amnesty clause on him in an attempt to save cap space for further additions to a promising roster in the Eastern Conference. ESPN.com's Marc Stein first reported the details:
That's a crowd. Well, actually, three is a crowd; five is something else entirely.
The Lakers are a traditional bunch likely to hire a traditional coach (Byron Scott), and it's unlikely they feel comfortable tinkering with the traditional positions.
Power forward and center will be the only spots for these big men to play, and last I checked, five is greater than two. Plus, five could grow to six if Ryan Kelly is retained for a cheap deal, as the sharp-shooting Duke product is still hanging tight in the free-agent pool.
Given the number of players set to earn playing time, Randle doesn't look likely to receive as much as he should.
However, not all players are created equal.
Level of Commitment
There may be five players set to receive run at either the 4 or the 5, but the Lakers aren't as committed to some as they are to others.
First, let's go ahead and cross off Sacre, as he'll be nothing more than an every-day reserve and a big body when the Lakers need a particularly large lineup. The former Gonzaga standout may only have two seasons of NBA experience, but he's 25 years old and coming off a season in which he averaged only 11.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.
He's on the books for less than $1 million in 2014-15, and his salary next year is similarly low and comes without a guarantee if he's waived before June 30, 2015, per ShamSports.com.
Davis is in a fairly similar position.
Though he's still in possession of some untapped potential, the 25-year-old still received only minimal playing time for the Memphis Grizzlies last year.
Spending, on average, 15.2 minutes per game on the court, Davis put up only 5.7 points and 4.1 rebounds during the typical outing. Translate those into per-36-minute numbers, and the results—13.4 points and 9.8 rebounds—aren't too much more impressive than Sacre's.
Given his lottery pedigree, Davis was an intriguing flier, especially on such a low price tag. However, he's going to be one of those on the outside now that the rotation is even more crowded.
That leaves Boozer, Hill and Randle.
After receiving $9 million per year, the only incumbent is going to be given plenty of opportunities to shine, just as he did when he was granted playing time during the Mike D'Antoni era. Let's not forget that during his last 14 outings, which came after returning from injury, Hill averaged 15.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per contest while shooting 56.8 percent from the field.
He won't lack for playing time, especially with the Lake Show needing to evaluate him in a larger role before picking up or declining his option for 2015-16.
Boozer, even though he's the most established player, isn't even guaranteed that.
"What doesn't make sense for a rebuilding team is to give playing time to Boozer, 33 in November, ahead of guys who might work toward their ceilings and help the Lakers in the future," writes Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding. "But there is also a credible argument to be made that adding Boozer is part of a broad-minded approach to ease the demands on Randle, who will be 20 in November, as a rookie."
Everything depends on how competitive the Lakers want to be, because they sure aren't committed to Boozer. He's an expiring contract, one who can't even be traded as a result of being amnestied, so he's stuck as a member of the Lakers for this one season no matter what happens.
If the Lakers plan on being competitive and easing Randle—whom they're more committed to than anyone else in the frontcourt, given his status as the No. 7 pick and his unmatched upside—into the rotation, Boozer will receive heavy minutes. But if he's there to serve as an offensive mentor and provide occasional sparks off the bench, he won't.
"We're not giving up on this summer and this year, that's for sure," Kupchak told Ding while in Las Vegas for summer league. "There still are possibilities. But we're just going to keep working at it and look for opportunities to remain competitive, contending and flexible."
Are you really surprised that the GM is saying that? It's part of his job to reassure the fanbase and offer up hope, even if it may be misplaced.
However, actions speak louder than words.
More Desire to Develop than Win
It's not exactly a controversial opinion to feel as though these Lakers don't have championship upside nor should it be to claim that LAL isn't ready to compete for a playoff spot in the brutally difficult Western Conference, even if Kobe plays like the vintage Mamba.
The Lakers aren't foolish. They're well aware of this, and they're also surely privy to the fact that their first-round pick will be conveyed to the Phoenix Suns if it doesn't come within the first five selections of the 2015 NBA draft.
Yes, that means a certain dreaded word beginning with a "t" and rhyming with "banking" is coming into play. If that's the case, why would Boozer—or any of the other frontcourt players—get minutes at the expense of Randle?
The Kentucky product is undoubtedly a member of the Tinseltown core, imbued with potential and ready to contribute right away. His physicality in the post is already impressive, and his underrated athleticism gives him a loftier ceiling than some realize. Maybe he'll never be a dominant defender, but the same can't be said for his offensive game.
Randle being treated as the future and receiving the same amount of run as he would without Boozer on the roster doesn't necessarily mean that the former Bull was a frivolous signing. Not only did the Lakers have money to burn but they also managed to use it on an experienced veteran who can help serve as a mentor before coming off the books prior to next summer.
So long as Boozer's defensive habits don't rub off on Randle, he can absolutely help out the young stud.
Though the veteran power forward developed a bad reputation at the end of his career with the Bulls, that was largely due to his contract. His offense was still held in high regard, as he was one of the best in the league at scoring from 15 feet and in prior to a big decline last season.
There are certainly elements of the game that Boozer can help his new protege with, and if nothing else, he can serve as a veteran leader, a player who has spent his career displaying his passion in proper ways out on the court. Randle, to the best of my knowledge, still hasn't developed that "And-one!" scream that makes the veins on his neck pop.
The frontcourt may be crowded in the Staples Center (for one team, at least), but it's constructed in such a manner that Randle's development won't be hindered. Davis' will be, but he's not held in the same regard as the franchise's latest top pick.
Maybe you shouldn't flock to Vegas and submit bets on Randle's Rookie of the Year campaign but don't expect him to produce that much less than he was expected to directly after the draft.