Randle, the No. 7 pick in the draft from Kentucky, will be a 19-year-old power forward by the time training camp hits, and Bryant’s tutelage will more than likely be welcomed.
Kobe was once upon a time a straight-out-of-high-school youngster joining the professional ranks to play with grown men, which was likely a tall order. Bryant was slightly younger than Randle will be when he makes his NBA debut.
An argument could be made that Kobe wasn’t ready to step in at the time and contribute when he joined the Lakers.
Bryant was a young man learning on the job, which made him a little green in terms of basketball and team dynamics. That changed over the course of his career, and Kobe became L.A.’s leader through trial and error, as ESPN LA’s Brian Kamenetzky reports:
Over the course of now 17 seasons in L.A., the demands on Kobe as a leader have changed. Earlier in his career, Bryant's role wasn't as expansive. He didn't so much lead (not in the way we traditionally think of the word, at least) as get out front in a very competitive environment and drag guys with him through will, stubbornness, and on-floor talent.
In time, though, as more has been required Bryant has adjusted. He's softened the edges, grown less insular, and learned you can't be that guy all the time and expect people to follow.
Bryant has gotten a grasp of the buttons he must push to get his teammates playing at a high level. In the case of Randle, Kobe will have to figure that out and then execute.
Interestingly enough, Bryant probably has an idea of what Randle is made of. Similarly to Bryant, Randle was one of the top high school prospects in the nation. Although Bryant didn’t attend college, his rookie year in the pros offered some interesting parallels with Randle’s freshman season at Kentucky.
Despite their young ages, both demonstrated a lot of raw talent and the ability to make plays. Randle used his lone collegiate season to demonstrate that few players could handle his size (6’9’’, 250 lbs.) and speed in the post.
He was quick to remind fans and opposing teams what kind of player he is after the Lakers drafted him.
"I think I should've went higher [in the draft] for sure, but, you know, the teams that passed on me will regret it," Randle told ESPN's Jay Williams (as reported by Dave McMenamin on ESPN.com).
That confidence is quite reminiscent of Bryant himself. For instance, in an interview with GQ.com's Mark Anthony Green, Randle offered: "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."
Bryant himself was a little exuberant during his rookie year and occasionally broke out of the offense to create scoring opportunities for himself. The 41.7 percent field-goal shooting in his first year suggests Bryant missed on a lot of those attempts.
Still, Kobe’s experiences highlight a fairly important tidbit: He’s walked in Randle’s shoes. As a result, Bryant will be able to offer some insights on the path he took and warn his new teammate of the landmines surrounding him.
Take Nick Young for instance. Bryant was sidelined for most of the 2013-14 season and used some of his injured time to tutor Young and try to break some of his bad habits. Kobe shared this nugget with Los Angeles Daily News’ Mark Medina in January:
It drives me crazy when we’re on the plane and the first thing he does is pick up a stack of cards. It’s a 5 1/2-hour flight. You can take the first hour and do your homework and then you can do cards for the next four hours. It’s doing the homework and the mental preparation that’s really the biggest change for him.
That might sound a tad harsh, but guidance doesn’t always equate to popular sentiments. Bryant accepted the notion of teaching Young what it takes to be a true professional, and he responded.
Young told Los Angeles Daily News’ Medina: “Kobe is right there telling me, guiding me like a coach from that sideline and telling me what to do and keeping my head up. Kobe’s been a great mentor for me all season.”
I can see Kobe doing these things for Randle as he gets acclimated to life in the NBA. The first-year player will naturally have to adjust as the season unfolds, and Kobe will likely be there with him along the way. The tandem should be able to form a partnership on the court, which will allow Randle to become the bridge between the Kobe era and the post-Bryant period.
Kobe’s teachings might ultimately be exactly what Randle needs to become a solid player for the Lakers.
I can’t wait to find out how far Kobe can take him. The results could serve to enhance his legacy.