The Pelicans are adding another Wildcat to their frontcourt. Julius Randle will sign with the Pelicans on a two-year, $18 million deal with a player option for the second season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. In New Orleans, Randle will be united with fellow Kentucky product Anthony Davis in what has the potential to be an exciting tandem. Randle’s signing could signal the departure of another Wildcat, however, as DeMarcus Cousins’s future in the Bayou comes to a close. Cousins signed a one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors shortly after, according to reports.
The Lakers renounced Randle’s rights Monday, making him an unrestricted free agent one day after Los Angeles signed LeBron James. Randle’s departure from Hollywood apparently has less to do with the team’s pursuit of Kawhi Leonard and more about a lack of commitment from the organization moving forward. The Lakers’ loss is the Pelicans’ gain, who were ready to move on from Cousins after one-and-a-half seasons. Let’s grade the deal for New Orleans.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do in the NBA is simply walk away. We saw it with Orlando just this week, who brought back Aaron Gordon—an undoubtedly talented player—despite a logjam in the frontcourt. The Pelicans could have re-signed Cousins, but he would have possibly commanded a large contract despite recovering from an Achilles tear. A Boogie signing would have been risky, especially after New Orleans seemed to perform better without him down the stretch of last season. (And Cousins wasn’t carrying equal weight in New Orleans. In 642 minutes with Boogie on and AD off, the Pelicans had a minus-2.4 net rating.)
The signing of Randle accomplishes a few things. It prevents a long-term commitment to Cousins. It adds a solid complement to Davis, someone who may not be a shooter but a big who can play with pace, run the fastbreak and bully his way inside for points. And it gives the Pelicans options—if for any reason Randle turns out to be a poor fit, his modest contract should be a decent trade chip. (Randle himself has the option to become a free agent if he kills it next season.)
Randle played really well for the Lakers in the second half of 2017–18. After the All-Star break, Randle averaged 19.5 points in nearly 32 minutes per game for L.A. For the season, he shot 68.8% on field goals within 10 feet—comparable to Davis’s 69.7%.
The on-court fit will still have to work itself out. The Pelicans should still consider closing games with Davis at center flanked by shooters instead of force-feeding Randle minutes. But New Orleans entered this summer in a tricky spot because of Cousins’s injury. Thanks to LeBron, a slow market for bigs, and fortuitous timing, the Pelicans have made one of the more shrewd signings of free agency.