The Superstar Squeeze

If you are a good player like Julius Randle, the idea of playing with a superstar is exciting. You get to see close up their habits and rituals and how they prepare. They can teach you something. But what you don’t really think about is the business of playing with a superstar. They take up a lot of the cap. If you have bad timing, like Julius Randle had bad timing, a restricted free agent, then you feel the squeeze. The binary choice is cut and dried. Take way less money. Or go.

Julius Randle chose to go.

Julius Randle has never had good timing. Before the draft, teams tried to devalue him by bringing up a lingering foot issue. And then in game number one he broke his leg. He was out the first season. His second season he showed his gift for rebounding and finishing and he had handles. He could bring the ball up and finish or distribute. But he didn’t have a jump shot. He wasn’t explosive. He was an undersized power forward at 6-8. There were players in the post he could dominate, those stretch fours who were out on the perimeter and weren’t physical enough to bang in the post. Other players, the Anthony Davises and Karl-Anthony Towns’ of the world schooled him. His game, absent a jumper, was a mixed bag that belonged in the NBA about twenty years ago. Still, Randle heading into his restricted free agent year, was confident.

He did what he was supposed to do in his contract year. He played all 82 games. He had a career high in field goal percentage, eFG%, offensive rebounds and points. His PER was 19.9. But there was that small detail about his shooting. 22% on threes. 25% on long threes. Mid-30% in midrange. He dominates at the rim but nowhere else. In the modern game, it’s hard to find a seamless fit which is why the Julius Randle market was kind of sketchy.

First, there was not a lot of money. The 76ers had money but Philly needs shooting and Randle doesn’t fit that bill. Once the Lakers renounced Randle to sign Rajon Rondo, Randle took Rondo’s place on the Pelicans roster. He signed a two year deal with a player option in 2019 when there will be a lot of money.

But the bad news for Randle is that next year a lot of free agents will be on the market and Randle, if he still doesn’t have a jump shot, won’t be coveted like Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard. If he has a good year, he’ll be re-signed by the Pels. Or, he’ll be hunting for crumbs.

Julius Randle was a Lakers lottery pick but his path to an All-Star selection depends on his ability to grow as an offensive player. His best attribute is how hard he works. He never takes plays off, has a winners psyche and personifies tough. But you can’t give him the ball and tell him to get a basket and be assured he won’t get his shot blocked. Not having a shot makes it tougher on him, not easier.

With New Orleans, he will play his game. Anthony Davis stretches the floor so Randle will be able to operate in the paint. Alvin Gentry will add offensive wrinkles but it remains to be seen what Randle can do with a open jumpshot. He will get a lot of open looks.

Julius Randle was a fan favorite in Los Angeles and the same will happen in New Orleans. Fans want their players to care and Randle does. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and never cheats the game. He is incredibly likeable and you want him to succeed and do well. The Julius Randle problem though was not about character, personality, heart, and selflessness. It was simple.

LeBron James came to town. And Randle didn’t fit.