Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle is approaching a crucial juncture in his career. He is entering restricted free agency this summer, and the Lakers have to decide how much they want him, though their decision will likely also be dependent on their luck attracting max free agents.
The 6-9 fourth-year pro has a $5.6 million qualifying offer he could accept for next season, or the Lakers could decide whether to match an offer sheet if he gets one, among other options. It won’t be easy to convince Randle to agree to the qualifying offer, so the Lakers might be at the mercy of how outside suitors value him.
LA listened to trade offers from other teams, but was unwilling to deal him in exchange for second-round picks. The Lakers like him quite a bit, yet they probably don’t love him enough to overspend to keep him.
What Randle is worth and what he’ll get are two different questions. He has boosted his on-court productivity in what is essentially his third full season in the league. However, the free-agent market won’t be as generous as it was the past few summers. There is less cap space to go around, so he many not receive many lucrative offers.
Let’s address both his on-court value compared to the rest of the league and what he’ll likely earn this offseason.
The favorable stats
After missing nearly his entire rookie season due to a tibia fracture, Randle has gradually upgraded many key areas of his game over the past three campaigns.
He is scoring a career-high 21.5 points per 36 minutes, a significant jump from 16.5 last season. Randle is filling up the hoop at a higher rate because his shot-creation skills are more polished and he is getting to the free-throw line more often than ever (6.4 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes). He is also notching career bests in offensive rebounds per 36 minutes (3.0), field goal percentage (56) and blocks per 36 minutes (0.9).
Randle has been particularly productive lately in an expanded role. He started generating more offense once he was inserted into the starting lineup in late December, and he has cranked things up even higher since the trade deadline. Once Larry Nance Jr. departed, Randle has enjoyed 31.4 minutes, 21.5 points and 3.5 assists per game. He is currently on a three-game run of 30-plus minutes and 20-plus points per game.
Executives know he is a high-energy forward with footspeed, aggressive physicality and some playmaking value. Yet, Randle’s deficiencies will also be on their minds when they assess his long-term value.
The unfavorable stats
The two weaknesses working against him are his lack of length and inability to shoot from the perimeter.
Randle’s 6-9 frame and underwhelming 7-0 wingspan make it hard for him to protect the rim against lengthier opponents. It also hinders his ability to score easily over athletic 4s and 5s; he often spins and adjusts his shot in midair in order to get clean looks.
The shooting ineptitude is more concerning, though. The NBA is becoming a league where most power forwards can shoot from 3-point range. Lineups with multiple non-shooters are more rare and less effective. It would be one thing if Randle showed improvement beyond the arc, but that’s not the case.
He is at 23 percent from deep this season, down from 27 percent last season. He is also shooting just 28.6 percent on all catch-and-shoot jumpers from 3-point and 2-point range, and 25.7 percent on pull-up attempts. Randle can’t knock down pick-and-pop jumpers when opponents dare him to shoot.
Without evidence that the can connect from the outside, teams won’t have faith that he can stretch the defense. His erratic shooting prevents him from being a truly versatile offensive weapon.
What he’s worth, and what he’ll earn this summer
To get an idea of what Randle could command, let’s keep in mind what other forwards earned the last few offseasons. Here are a few notable power forwards who weren’t/aren’t consistent 3-point shooters:
Trevor Booker in 2016: 2 years, $18.5 million with Nets
Darrell Arthur in 2016: 3 years, $23 million with Nuggets
Andrew Nicholson in 2016: 4 years, $26 million with Wizards
Zach Randolph in 2017: 2 years, $24 million with Kings
Taj Gibson in 2017: 2 years, $28 million with Timberwolves
Some of these deals were irresponsible because the salary cap spiked in 2016. Some of these players were better in certain areas than Randle. Most of them are older and didn’t have as much upside as he does. It’s safe to say that a 23-year-old Randle should command a contract at least as lucrative as most of the deals above, if not better.
If teams with money to spend were interested in Randle, he should be garnering offers of at least $8 to $14 million per year. It wouldn’t be crazy for executives to offer him a three-year, $40 million deal or even a four-year, $50-plus million deal. In fact, compared to some of his colleagues, he should be entertaining offers near $17 million per year or more. His footspeed and combination of scoring and playmaking are worth it.
Unfortunately, teams don’t have as much to spend this offseason than the previous two. The spending frenzies of 2016 and 2017 left most clubs with very little cap room in 2018-19.
Randle won’t be anyone’s major prize or featured star. Therefore, only teams with room for him plus a superstar will likely consider signing him to a long-term deal. That includes the Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings.
Randle could accept the Lakers’ qualifying offer. Or, if the Lakers don’t land two max-contract players this summer, they could match an offer sheet or even work out a new deal with him.
However, if LA is intent on bringing in two max contracts immediately, it won’t match the best deal. Randle could walk and sign with a team for $12-15 million per year over three or four years (or perhaps slightly more on a shorter deal). In a couple of years, when most of the league clears the books from overspending in 2016, his contract may look like a bargain.