Julius Randle signs rookie contract, makes Summer League debut for Lakers

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LAS VEGAS — The Lakers selected Julius Randle with the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft, but due to the team trying to preserve every last dollar of its cap space in case it could convince any of the marquee free agents to come to Los Angeles, he remained unsigned, and was unable to play in Summer League until the contract issue was resolved.

That changed in a hurry on Sunday, moments before L.A. was set to take the floor for its second matchup in Las Vegas against the Pelicans.

Randle wasn’t exactly planning on playing, but things came together quickly, and he was in the Lakers starting lineup for the 1:30 p.m. local time tip-off — but not without a fair bit of scrambling to make it happen.

“I signed it like 20 minutes before the game,” Randle said. “We were on the way to the game, and I was in my polo and shorts. My agent called and he said ‘Hey, Mitch has landed. We’re signing today.’ I was like, what? I don’t even have my shoes. I had to run off the bus, go get my shoes, take a car up here to sign and then get ready to play.”

Randle was rocking a new-looking pair of gray LeBron 11 Elites with pink accents, and his game looked NBA-ready at times, in a performance that saw him finish with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, to go along with two rebounds in just over 21 minutes of action.

“That’s the first five-on-five I’ve done since the national championship game,” Randle said. “It was good to finally get out there and play, and start competing again.”

Randle showcased a high level of activity on both ends of the floor, with far less standing around on possessions than we’ve come to expect from NBA guys of his size and position. He got lost on defense at times, but the effort was evident — and on the offensive end of the floor, Randle was aggressive in attacking the basket by putting the ball on the floor, instead of settling for long jumpers outside.

“He’s been in camp paying attention from the sideline,” said Lakers coach Larry Lewis, who is sharing the Summer League sideline duties with Mark Madsen as the team continues its search to hire a new head coach. “He couldn’t go five-on-five with any contact, so I thought he showed he has some pretty impressive footwork. As a young player, banging against guys his size and even a little bigger, he handled his own. He’ll get in better shape as we go along, and I think he’s an asset. He has a good attitude; when it’s his fault, I think he accepts it. He’s a man.”

Randle would only say his performance was “decent,” but that’s to be expected in his first chance at NBA competition with minimal practice time, and with so much time off between five-on-five, live game situations. Lewis, however, was a bit more optimistic, and liked what he saw out of the team’s newly-drafted rookie prospect.

“I think he’ll get better,” Lewis said. “This is his first experience on the floor as a Laker in competition. To not have been able to be involved in camp like you’d want or expect, for that to be his first action, I don’t think we could have asked for anything better. I think he did a good job, and I only see him going up.”

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.