LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers face the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
During the same whirlwind week last July, when four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James created a roar by signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, the organization also quietly renounced their rights to Julius Randle, their former lottery pick who was the leading scorer and rebounder last season, and the only player to appear in all 82 games.
By letting Randle walk, the Lakers saved $12 million in salary-cap space, which they hope to eventually spend on another superstar. Randle signed with the New Orleans Pelicans, and Friday night at Staples Center he's expected to face his former team for the first time.
Randle's return hit a bump in the road when he limped off the floor late in a 102-96 loss against the visiting Miami Heat on Sunday. He then sat out his first game of the season on Wednesday, a 123-115 loss against the Milwaukee Bucks that kicked off a four-game road trip.
"We'll see where it is after (Wednesday) and what's going on," New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told NBA.com before the loss to Milwaukee.
Randle has been a welcome addition in New Orleans. He's third on the team in scoring at 19.3 points a game and second in rebounds (9.5). In his final season in Los Angeles, Randle averaged 16.1 points and eight rebounds.
"Very happy for him," Lakers coach Luke Walton told reporters after practice Thursday. "He's having a lot of success. It's good to see."
The Pelicans (15-17) have lost two in a row overall and will try to avoid falling three games under .500 for the first time this season.
The Lakers (18-13) will be trying to avoid losing three in a row for the first time since the first three games of the season.
They could get two key players back from injuries.
Brandon Ingram has missed the past seven games with a left ankle injury, and Rajon Rondo has missed the past 17 with a broken hand. Both have been practicing in full in recent days. JaVale McGee is still a question mark with flu-like symptoms, however.
The Lakers closed out a four-game road trip with a 115-110 loss against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday. They faced another one of their four lottery picks they owned from 2014-17, D'Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in 2015 who was traded to the Nets two years later.
Russell had 22 points and 13 assists in the win against Los Angeles.
Randle, taken No. 7 overall in 2014, has developed a 3-point shot since joining New Orleans, making 4-of-8 in his past three games.
With the Pelicans short-handed up front against the Bucks, they relied on perimeter shooting and made a season-high 19 on 42 attempts from 3-point range, but couldn't stay hot over the final five minutes and Milwaukee pulled away.
New Orleans center Anthony Davis, who reached double figures in points and rebounds in the same game 50 times last season, moved his game outside as well, taking a career-high nine 3-point attempts and matching his career best by making four.
The Pelicans also hope to return power forward Nikola Mirotic, who has missed the past three games with an ankle injury. He's fourth on the team in scoring (17.4) and third in rebounding (9.2).