From Hollywood to the Big Easy: Julius Randle’s winding road
The Pelicans’ new power forward discusses his time with the Lakers and Anthony Davis’ future in New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — Julius Randle was heartbroken when he recently drove with a friend through the Lower Ninth Ward, which is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
Randle was 10 years old and living in Dallas when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Now 23, the new New Orleans Pelicans forward wants to help the city on and off the court.
“I am driving through these neighborhoods and I’m like, ‘How are these places still abandoned? How do these people have nowhere to go?’ ” Randle said. “You are talking about blocks and blocks of abandoned homes from the storm. No one is trying to help these neighborhoods? I want to go into the community and really help my neighbors out.
“My friend’s dad was like, ‘It isn’t as bad as it used to be. It used to be wild.’ … But people are proud to be from here, and that is super dope.”
Randle signed with the Pelicans as a free agent this summer, after the Los Angeles Lakers renounced his rights on July 2 to sign free-agent guard Rajon Rondo.
A source said at least 25 NBA teams showed interest in Randle when he briefly became a free agent. But Randle believed he could be a good fit for New Orleans head coach Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo style of play. Randle also said Pelicans general manager Dell Demps told him the franchise didn’t just want him, it needed him. All-Star forward Anthony Davis sealed the deal by wooing Randle after it became clear DeMarcus Cousins was not returning.
“If you ask every [NBA] player if they had their dream scenario, their dream scenario is everyone just wants to be wanted,” Randle said. “For me talking to New Orleans, they wanted me. I was a part of their future.”
Randle was raised by a single mother, former University of Texas women’s basketball player Carolyn Kyles. Randle credits his mother for always having him around “good people.”
When he was 11, he played on a Dallas AAU team that was funded by Texas billionaire Kenny Troutt, who took the players to road games on private jets and had them stay in five-star hotels. Randle also said Troutt took him to see the Dallas Mavericks and he got to watch his idol, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, from courtside seats.
In the same way, with great mentors and friends who are still in his life, Randle wants to inspire underprivileged New Orleans youths and says being in the community is important to him.
“I want kids to have opportunities — whether it’s through education, sports or whatever they want to get involved in — so they’re not on the streets,” Randle said. “That’s important. I am passionate about kids.
“I have a friend who got shot not too long ago. It really messed me up because this was the greatest kid with a genuine good heart. But he never had the right influences around him. He ended up getting shot and killed because he was trying to rob somebody and didn’t know nothing else. There are situations where I feel like can always be avoided if you have the right mentorship. I was lucky enough to have it from day one.”
During his NBA career, Randle was also fortunate to have role models from the start, including Bryant.
“I followed everything he did,” Randle said. “I’m not saying I played like him, but you learn things. Footworkwise. The biggest thing I learned from him was heart and work ethic. He was 38 and still in the gym at 7:30 in the morning. I’m coming in as a rookie thinking I’m getting in early at 8:15, 8:30. And he’s in a full sweat, already having worked out, talking about, ‘Forget what you’re doing. Let’s play one-on-one.’
“How he studies the game and attention to detail, he was crazy smart. Those things still stick with me to this day.”
Randle spent four up-and-down years with the Lakers that included breaking his leg as a rookie, zero playoff appearances and playing with Bryant during his final season.
But this past season was Randle’s biggest challenge, as the team won only 35 games and dealt with constant rumors about LeBron James and Paul George coming to L.A. Randle even deleted all social media from his phone before last season because it had become “toxic.”
“It was my hardest [season] by far in my life,” Randle said. “Everything was bothering me from the basketball standpoint. I felt like there were issues that were out of your control. I am a person that likes to control the narrative. … I just had to grow up. I can’t worry about things I can’t control and let it affect my happiness.”
Randle said he did not take being renounced by the Lakers personally, but he said he misses the camaraderie with his former teammates.
“The Lakers stuff, it didn’t really bother me,” Randle said. “I moved on. The tough part is the brotherhood and bond you establish with the players and the other guys. Nobody knows what you go through other than the guys in that locker room. All of us were young. I was an older dude in that locker room and I was 22, 23 on my fourth year in the NBA. You go through wars with these guys and grow with these guys.
“When J.C. [Jordan Clarkson] and Larry [Nance] got traded [to Cleveland], it hurt me.”
But Randle, who averaged 16.1 points, eight rebounds and 2.6 assists for the Lakers last season, said he is looking forward to playing with his new teammates.
“Pairing myself with a guy like [Davis] and their style of play,” Randle said. “Jrue [Holiday], Niko [Mirotic], ’Twaun [Moore], Ian [Clark], all of those guys can space the floor. I saw what they did in the playoffs making their run. A lot of people were surprised, but if you look at them through the course of the season, it really shouldn’t be surprising. They were one of the top defensive and offensive teams in the league.
“Gentry establishes a style to play fast with a lot of freedom. People overlook they were second in assists percentagewise and total number. It goes to show you they’re an unselfish team.”
Randle believes his arsenal of power drives, post scoring, passing and jump shooting can complement Davis’ elite game.
“Obviously, [Cousins] was great here,” Randle said. “But it’s a different dynamic with me being able to use my speed and athleticism and being able to get down the floor.”
Added Gentry: “He brings a physical presence to our team that is going to be a big plus. He is also capable of being a playmaker for us and is very good at rebounding the ball and initiating the break. I feel like he is going to have a big year.”
While the Pelicans are not often mentioned as NBA title contenders this year, don’t tell that to the 6-foot-9-inch power forward.
“I am not settling for anything else other than to compete for a championship,” Randle said. “I want to compete for a championship. I’m saying, ‘Why not?’ We are talented from top to bottom. You saw what those guys did last year in the playoffs. I feel like I can add to that.”
Randle, who signed a two-year, $18 million deal with a player option, has the ability to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. But he said he wants to be in New Orleans long term.
“With the contract situation, I am not worried about it,” Randle said. “For me, I feel I have an opportunity to pick the best basketball atmosphere that is out there for me. I’m just happy with that. I hoop with a clear mind.”
The biggest question in New Orleans, of course, is what the Pelicans look like in the long term. Their cornerstone, Davis, will be a free agent in 2021, and speculation has already begun about where he might land.
Either way, Randle is prepared for what lies ahead this season.
“I come from a place where there is a storyline every day,” Randle said. “For over a year, ‘Is LeBron coming here? Is Paul George coming here? Blah, blah, blah.’ That was from day one since I got there because LeBron was a free agent. There was a storyline every single day.
“What is going to happen is what is going to happen. But I feel like A.D. loves it. He earned the right to do whatever he wants to do. But he will be here, hopefully.”