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Julius Randle set for his first big payday

The Lakers are looking to keep Randle around, meaning his paychecks will only get bigger.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Before the 2017-18 season started, there was uncertainty about what Julius Randle’s options would be at the end of the year, as some thought the Los Angeles Lakers may let him walk into unrestricted free agency.

But the former Wildcat made sure the Lakers had to at least try to keep him, averaging 16.1 points, eight rebounds and 2.6 assists per game this past season in what you’d certainly call a good contract year. He also shot a career-high 55.8 percent from the field to cap off his best season so far. Those numbers have greatly improved Randle’s prospects for free agency, leading the Lakers to extend a qualifying offer of $5.5 million.

That qualifying offer makes him a restricted free agent this summer, meaning other teams can top that offer and the Lakers would then have to determine if they wanted to match it or not. Seeing as the Lakers are going after Paul George and LeBron James in free agency, as well as talking to the San Antonio Spurs about a trade for Kawhi Leonard, it isn’t likely that they’ll be able to match other competing offers if they get anyone they’re going after.

That means Randle would likely head elsewhere (unless he decides to accept LA’s initial qualifying offer), because there’ll certainly be interest for him on the market. And that also means he’ll make a lot more money this season than he did with his rookie salary.

Randle made $4.1 million for the 2017-18 season, making up just 4 percent of the cap hit for the team. With that small rookie salary, he led the team in points, rebounds and player efficiency rating last year, despite starting just 49 games, the fewest of any season in his career (except for his rookie year, in which he broke his leg in game one and was out the rest of the season).

The 23-year-old Randle’s salary will certainly jump in his second contract. Whether or not it’s a significant climb over that $5.5 million will likely depend on how big of a bidding war the Lakers want to get in when they’re looking to sign much bigger names.

If nothing else, they could match Randle’s offer from another team if they miss out on all their other hopeful signings.

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