Why Julius Randle might be the star the Lakers are looking for

The trade deadline has passed and Julius Randle is still a Laker — at least for now.

Most sports analysts still expect the team to part ways with Randle by the end of the season, however. The reason: L.A. wants to clear up salary cap space to make room for a superstar this summer.

But in doing so, the Lakers could be giving away their biggest key to success.

Ever since he was moved back into the starting lineup last month, Randle has made the most of his opportunity, averaging 16.8 points and 9 rebounds per game, all while shooting 54 percent shooting from the floor. Those numbers are great, but what’s more important is that the Lakers have been winning more games with Randle back in the starting lineup.

Granted, the team lost their first five games after he was re-promoted to starting power forward. But ever since then, the team has been on a tear, winning 12 of its last 16 games — their best streak in years.

No other player has done more than Randle over that stretch. Not fan-favorite Lonzo Ball, who’s been out sidelined due to injury during most of that stretch. Not a struggling Kyle Kuzma, whose point average has decreased over the past month. Not even Brandon Ingram, whose inconsistency has plagued the team at times.

Without realizing it, the Lakers may have found the star they’ve been searching for all along.

Randle is currently the team leader in rebounds, in and-ones, and most impressively: in player efficiency rating. Not bad for a guy who has been considered so tradeable for the past five months.

True, he’s no LeBron James or Paul George, but he’s starting to show promise as a leader, as a reliable performer, and (lately) as a winner.

Randle will be a restricted free agent this summer, which means the Lakers could still match any offer another team presents him — if they choose to do so.

Given his recent performance as of late, Lakers fans should the team does, indeed, choose to do so.