Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. Three names you should be very excited about if you’re a Los Angeles Lakers Fan. These three names represent the FUTURE of one of the most prestigious franchises not only in NBA history, but of any franchise in all of sports.
Julius Randle was the 7th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the way of the University of Kentucky. Many of the draft experts, including myself (I’m no expert), considered him the second best available player behind Kansas standout, Andrew Wiggins. At 6’9 250 lbs, Randle came into the league with what many consider to be an NBA body. He finished the 2013-2014 year with 24 double doubles, the second most in the UK’s storied history, most by any freshman ever. He achieved those marks with his physical play and relentless bulldog type mentality. Throughout his only year at UK, he displayed a very high motor and the leadership ability that any NBA team looking for a corner stone player covets. He was by far the heart and soul of a Kentucky team that made it all the way to the NCAA championship game before losing to the eventual champion, UCONN Huskies. Shortly after the championship game, Randle, like many expected declared himself eligible for the draft. To be honest, as a fan, I thought deep in my heart the Lakers would never land him at #7. Then, June 26th 2014 comes, the day the NBA gods finally bestowed good fortune on LA since the Kobe and Pau hay days. The Lakers got the biggest steal in the draft since 1996, the time they traded an aging vet in Vlade Divac for some young HS kid out of Pennsylvania. Who knows whatever happened to that guy. Even though Randle suffered a season ending injury in his pro debut, many people in Laker Land expect him to be the piece we build around for the next decade. In my opinion, he reminds me of Lamar Odom with muscles and a relentless motor, minus the Kardashian. As much praise that I’ve given to Randle, I honestly believe he was only the second biggest steal of that particular draft, behind only his future teammate, Jordan Clarkson.
Going into the 2014 draft I was for sure Clarkson wouldn’t fall anywhere near the 2nd round. (Once again, I’m no expert.) He was an explosive guard with rare athleticism and four years removed from HS, which we all know is extremely rare for such a young talented guard headed to a guard heavy league. Did I expect him to be so good right away at the pro level? No. Did I expect him to be only the fifth player since 1985 drafted in the 2nd round, to make All NBA rookie team? No. At the time of Clarkson’s arrival the Lakers were mediocre, and that’s me being nice. But what he added halfway through that painful season was a jolt of energy. He provided Laker faithful, along with Randle, something to look forward to. For many loyal fans, myself included, LA’s future was the last thing I wanted to envision. Even though the Lakers were headed for their second straight lottery pick, there was hope. This hope was something most who loved the purple and gold armor hadn’t experienced since Dwight Howard decided to take his talents to Houston.
I’ll be honest, everything you just read is nowhere near as important as what you’re about to read.
June 26th, 2015. I’ll never forget this day. I was with all my buddies at our favorite hang out spot. We huddle around the table as the 2015 NBA draft started. Everybody around me is bashing each other’s favorite team. Usually, I’m the one leading the charge but not today. Today I was glued to the TV. I was asking myself the one question every Laker fan was asking, Russell or Okafor. THIS pick, in my opinion, does one of two things. Either it sets them back 10 years or it gives them the final piece in a triangle of young talent to build on.
I contemplated this pick up until Commissioner Silver announced the pick. I watched both of them closely through their only year in college. I watched highlight tapes over and over until I grew sick of the commentators in the background. After all that time I came to one conclusion, and it was fairly simple. Do you choose the PG that this franchise has desperately craved since Magic? Russell screams LA, this silky smooth attitude. Charisma, Magic Johnson smile, but most importantly, whenever D’Angelo Russell steps onto ANY basketball court he honestly feels that he is the best player out there. He was once quoted saying he wears the number 0 because that’s how many people can guard him.
Then comes Jahlil Okafor. The traditional seven foot, old school, NBA center. This guy could score the rock from anywhere inside the 3 point line, in a variety of different ways. He could knock down the mid range jumper or give you a pump fake and attack the basket. For a man of his size he could pass the rock better than most guards. He also fit the LA mold. Confident, offensively dominant and also very keen with his abilities on the court.
“With the 2nd pick in the 2015 NBA draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select D’Angelo Russell, from The Ohio State University.”
Boom, right then and there it happened. The Lakers in two years, despite striking out in Free Agency, had found their back court and PF/SF of the future. They now had what they had desperately craved athleticism, swagger, building blocks for the future and most importantly they had players who WANTED to be Lakers. That makes a huge difference when you’re trying to rebuild from the ground up. Even though they haven’t played a single NBA minute together, their different styles of play seem to mesh together. You have a playmaker who would rather set his teammates up, but he’ll also drop buckets when needed. You have the slasher/defender who seems to care more about winning than anything. And Last but not least you have the big man who can bring the ball up court, post up your best big man, or step behind the three point line and knock down a long ball. Most importantly, each one of these guys can legitimately guard multiple positions at a high level.
Do the Lakers have the NBA’s next big three? Maybe. Only time can tell that. Do they have the potential to bring back LA to where they’re accustomed to being? I think everyone knows the answer to that.