Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell will come off the bench for the foreseeable future, another surprising development in an aimless season for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The duo represents a big part of the team’s long-term plans, but they were replaced in the lineup by veteran Lou Williams and rookie Larry Nance Jr. in a 102-93 loss Monday to the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.
Coach Byron Scott said he wanted more energy from the starters and a better burst to begin games, a constant problem for a team with a 3-18 record.
Russell was hit with a position switch, too, shifting to shooting guard while Marcelo Huertas ran the point for the reserve unit. He seemed fine when asked about it, agreeing there was more space to create without Kobe Bryant on the court.
“There’s just more ball movement. No disrespect to Kobe, but you know you have more opportunity because of who he is,” Russell said.
Neither player was excited before the game about the demotion, which Scott said he would re-evaluate in five to 10 games.
“I have no idea (why). I’m just going along with it,” Russell said. “I finally was starting to figure it out and then this happened … . I didn’t expect it to happen like that so if I was the problem, or if I was the change that needed to happen to better the team, then I guess it was worth it.”
Said Randle: “You’re never going to be thrilled about it as a competitor but it’s not in our control. Our control is to go out there and play hard, like we’ve been doing, and just keep getting better.”
Later the former University of Kentucky star said, “I don’t know, man. It’s not my decision so I don’t know.”
Russell finished with nine points and two assists in 21 minutes, about 25 percent below his average playing time.
Randle had 15 points and 11 rebounds in 21 minutes, also 25 percent below his average time. He had three “and-one” plays that were almost exactly the same, taking an offensive rebound, scoring and making the free throw each time after getting fouled.
“This change wasn’t so much based on them not performing up to their capability,” Scott said beforehand. “It’s based on where we are as a team. We’re 3-17, so obviously it’s not working. So I wanted to get some new blood in there, some fresh blood and see how those guys play.”
Scott said he hoped the young duo would channel any frustration into positives on the court.
“They didn’t say anything to me about it, but I don’t think they were happy about it. And I hope they’re not,” Scott said. “I hope that when they get their chance to play, that they come out with a lot more energy and a little bit more aggressiveness and just play better basketball.”
Meanwhile, there was another in-game video tribute to Bryant on an opponent’s scoreboard. It documented many of his career achievements — getting drafted, making the All-Star game, winning championships – but did not show any clips from his 81-point game against the Raptors back in 2006.
Bryant scored 21 points and his 8-for-16 shooting represented the first time this season he made as many as half his shots. He grinned broadly when told about it.
“Really? 50 percent? Aw. Man. Finally!” he said. He was being sarcastic.
He played well, though, adding eight rebounds and four assists before wilting late, which could also be said about the Lakers.
Bryant’s 18-foot pull-up jumper brought the Lakers to within 87-85 with 4:56 to play. But then he air-balled a three-point shot from 26 feet and missed badly from 18, the ball barely hitting the side of the rim.