Can Julius Randle Be LA Lakers' Next Star?

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Can Julius Randle Be LA Lakers' Next Star?
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Los Angeles Lakers fans are hoping Julius Randle ends up rescuing the franchise from a bout with mediocrity.

Perhaps he has what it takes, but the jury is still out. The Lakers saw enough of him during his freshman season at Kentucky to select him with the seventh pick in the 2014 NBA draft, but I’m just a wee bit skeptical.

His rookie year won’t sway me much because it a takes time for first-year players to adjust to the professional game. Randle had a strength advantage on most nights in college because of his 6'9", 250-pound frame, but the NBA will offer a different challenge.

Randle plays power forward, and that won’t be the same dance as the one he faced in the NCAA. The opposition offers a different set of physical challenges, and he'll already be at a disadvantage from an experience standpoint.

In addition, Randle will have to battle Western Conference big men such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, Zach Randolph, Anthony Davis and, potentially, Kevin Love, among many others.

Randle will have it tough, but his attitude, coupled with tutelage from a legend, will help him ascend.

 

The Kobe Bryant Factor

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Kobe Bryant and Randle might be kindred spirits. Randle plays with an edge and swagger that screams he can’t be stopped.

Heck, he’s more than happy to do the talking himself. When prompted to discuss whether he’d like to play against or with LeBron James by GQ’s Mark Anthony Green, Randle responded:

I'd rather play against LeBron. I just have an older mentality. I want to beat the best. Maybe in the future I'd want to play with him. I've been watching him my whole life. I'd rather compete against him and try and beat him than be on his team.

Randle’s bravado is a throwback to an older generation, one where players looked to take out their competition rather than join them.

Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher looked at the topic and offered this: 

Magic [Johnson] and [Larry] Bird competed 'from college' against each other because they never had the chance to do anything else. That was where great players first crossed paths; there was no convenient way of getting to know each other.

Bucher explained the main difference between the old guard and the new generation of players: "The new bragging rights are less about whom you've beaten and more about whom you've befriended. The hangin'-with-the-cool-kids mentality has taken over grassroots basketball."

Randle isn’t trying to hang with the cool kids, and neither is Kobe.

In January 2013, James spoke on the unprecedented level of scrutiny his team faced in 2010 to the Miami Herald’s Joseph Goodman, saying it far surpassed what the Lakers have been going through:

No one will ever be able to compare what we went through. Even though they're not winning and they're losing a lot of games, it's still nowhere near what we went through. Yeah, right. That level of magnitude was nowhere near where ours was two years ago. Nothing. Nothing compares to it.

According to the Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan, Bryant replied, "What does he want, a cookie?"

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Kobe’s sentiments jibe with Randle's, and that will help form a bond between the two.

Bryant is a fierce competitor, and Randle will remind Kobe of himself at the same age. Still, the tandem will only flourish if Randle comes to play every single night.

Luckily for the Lakers, Bryant is the best player in the league at pushing guys. "I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success," Kobe wrote on his Facebook page in October 2012.

I could see him instilling wisdom and a strong work ethic in the rookie, which could be what Randle needs to become the next superstar in the storied Lakers franchise. That’s going to be a huge component in determining whether Randle becomes the Lakers' next star.

But talent is also a big part of the equation.

 

Zach Randolph or Anthony Mason?

Richard Rowe/Getty Images

Is Randle the next Zach Randolph or Anthony Mason? Randolph is the superior player in my estimation, which could be Randle's ceiling.

Randolph, a two-time All-Star, is a bully on the block and fierce rebounder for the Memphis Grizzlies. He plays below the rim and punishes opponents on the interior with his strength.

He can't carry a team, but he's still a force in the right system. He’s surrounded by stud defensive players like Marc Gasol and Tony Allen in Memphis, and Mike Conley plays the role of closer.

Randolph is a great player, but he’s not a superstar. The same applies to Mason. During his peak years with the Charlotte Hornets, Mason was a power forward with point guard skills. He could run the offense from the high post or even at the top of the floor.

Randle might have some of that in his game as well.

Although Mason only stood 6'7", he was an intimidating figure because of his strength and physical play. Mason was a bruiser and a really good player. But he wasn’t elite.

Mason and Randolph were named to three combined All-Star teams, which isn’t an indictment. Rather, it serves to highlight that both players were solid but not transcendent.

Without a clear-cut physical advantage, at least early on in his NBA career, Randle will have trouble throwing his weight around against guys who can withstand it.

He will adjust after a year or two and find ways to attack defenses. He’ll probably bulk up and start dishing punishment all over again. If Randle can do that, he’ll be somewhere between Randolph and Mason.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Randle will be a really good player who puts up numbers through physical warfare with opponents and a fine touch around the basket. But would that be enough to please Lakers fans? Pau Gasol was a big part of two title teams, and he's been mentioned as an afterthought at times.

Randle will become part of the solution, but he won’t be the answer that his L.A. predecessors were once upon a time.

Still, I’m intrigued at the idea of Randle sitting at the passenger seat of a title team. If say a superstar were to come along and the tandem played out the rest of their careers together and won a L.A. a title, would Randle be viewed like James Worthy or Pau Gasol?

I’m tempted to side with Worthy. However, Randle would have to deliver huge performances on big stages, just to get into the conversation. But then, reality strikes: Is Worthy considered a star? Kind of but not really, which is the kind of path that awaits Randle.

The Purple and Gold and its fans have become accustomed to generational players like Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Perhaps we should hope that Bryant has one last great stretch of basketball in him since it may be a while after that before we see a Lakers superstar ruling the league.

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