Julius Randle perfect for the Lakers moving forward

When the Los Angeles Lakers chose Julius Randle with the seventh overall pick in the NBA Draft, they not only stole one of the best players available, but also took the first step toward a return to their winning ways.

Superstar Kobe Bryant will return next season, hopefully in better health than he has experienced lately. Randle looks poised to play immediately, and – alongside a veteran like Bryant – can learn plenty about the Lakers and basketball in general. As well as Bryant plays, he’s an equally good mentor, so Randle is sure to get some of the best instruction in the NBA.

In Randle the Lakers chose a player who is skilled in multiple aspects of the game. The power forward averaged a double-double in the 40 games he played during his one and only season with the Kentucky Wildcats. He was named SEC Freshman of the Year, and his team made it to the National Championship.

Although Kentucky lost the championship game, Randle gave a decent performance for a freshman in what was the biggest game of his young career. Ten points, six rebounds and four assists did not measure up to his regular season averages. However, those statistics are well-rounded enough to represent the potential for a multi-faceted All-Star.

The fact that Randle can play right away also impacts the Lakers in the trade market. The team can now make the deal for forward Pau Gasol – a deal it has flirted with for the past few years. With several forwards on the roster and Chris Kaman available to play the center position, Gasol is replaceable.

The Lakers won’t lose much size by dealing Gasol elsewhere, even though he stands 7 feet tall (a deceiving number as he’s not nearly as physical as others). That being said, Randle could be the physical player the Lakers need. Kaman also stands 7 feet tall, and forward Jordan Hill proved himself as a reliable big man during last season’s injury debacle.

Gasol might have more range than Randle, but that doesn’t matter too much, either. Remember that Bryant, the fourth-best scorer in NBA history, will be there to coach Randle on his shooting abilities.

Randle’s physicality also will allow him to drive to the basket and earn easier buckets for the Lakers. He will need to improve his free-throw shooting average of 70.6 percent, which he posted in college last season. That can be accomplished through repetition, and after all the Lakers did manage to win championships with the notoriously poor free-throw shooter Shaquille O’Neal.

The Lakers have about $30 million in cap space to spend. With Gasol entering free agency, the team can use that money to try orchestrating a sign-and-trade to send him to another team. ESPN’s Marc Stein said the Knicks are interested, but they don’t have the money to offer Gasol a large contract, so the sign-and-trade element is necessary.

The Lakers should consider getting a point guard or shooting guard in return to replace the aging Steve Nash and to balance out the size on the team. What’s more, Bryant won’t be around forever, so the team might also want to seek out a strong shooter who can accompany Randle for years to come.

After this year’s draft, the Lakers are in great shape to rebuild their storied franchise into a playoff contender once again. A few tune-ups and questions remain, but if a deal for Gasol goes through and Randle looks closely at how he did at Kentucky, the Lakers could return to the top of their division as early as this season.