UPDATE, 3:40 p.m. ET, 10/29/14: The scenario many Lakers fans feared was confirmed on Wednesday afternoon:
Julius Randle underwent surgery this morning and is expected to make a full recovery from his broken leg. He won't return this season.
— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) October 29, 2014
It's a crushing diagnosis for both the 19-year-old Randle, whom many expected to contend for Rookie of the Year honors in L.A. this year, and it's a heartbreaking loss for a Lakers team desperate for infusions of youth, talent and energy in the here and now, and desperate for foundational pieces around which to construct the next competitive iteration of the purple and gold in the future. All the Lakers organization and its fans, and the rest of us who just hate to see young players (or old players, or any players) waylaid like this, can hope for now is Randle making that "full recovery" and returning for an impressive second pass at his rookie season, like Blake Griffin did after suffering a broken left kneecap during the 2009 preseason.
The Lakers, wounded and coming off an opening night pasting at the hands of James Harden, Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets, will play the second game of a back-to-back against the go-go Phoenix Suns in Arizona on Wednesday.
With the Los Angeles Lakers likely facing a difficult season as they try to compete in a tough Western Conference, many Lakers fans had identified rookie forward Julius Randle as one of the few potential bright spots to focus on for the campaign ahead. That bright spot dimmed Tuesday, as the former Kentucky star and No. 7 overall pick suffered a broken right tibia during the fourth quarter of the Lakers' opening night loss to the Houston Rockets.
With just under seven minutes remaining in a game the Rockets led comfortably, Randle faced up against Rockets big man Donatas Motiejunas at the right elbow and drove right to the basket. As he leaped to attempt a shot, his left foot hit the back of his right leg; Randle collided with Rockets center Tarik Black in mid-air, lost the ball in the process, and appeared to be favoring his right leg before he even came down.
As play moved down to the other end of the court, Randle stayed seated in pain on the baseline beneath the L.A. basket. Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti rushed over to tend to the 19-year-old, and star guard Kobe Bryant — who's had enough experience with this sort of thing in the past two years to last a lifetime — leaned down to try to calm the panicked rookie.
Kobe consoling Randle. The rookie was in a lot of pain. pic.twitter.com/R7wQaOGOW4
The medical staff immobilized Randle's right leg in an air cast as players from both teams gathered around. Shortly thereafter, Randle's teammates lifted him off the court onto a stretcher, and he was carried off the floor.
Rachel Nichols reported during TNT's broadcast that the Lakers feared Randle had broken his right leg. After the game, and after Randle had undergone X-rays on the right leg, Lakers head coach Byron Scott confirmed the tibia fracture.
"Obviously, the last four or five minutes of the game were not very important to us," Scott told Nichols in a post-game interview. "It was more important to kind of really feel where he was and how he felt. I had the chance to talk to him briefly. We just all feel bad, you know? A young, promising player, and unfortunately, the first game of the season, he gets an injury."
Asked what Randle said when Scott spoke with him, the coach had little to offer.
"You know what, he didn't say anything. He was just kind of crying a little bit," Scott said. "I just told him it was going to be OK, to stay strong. He's going to be a great player in this league. It's just going to make him have to work harder, and he has that in him. We'll just wait for him to get back."
Randle had scored two points on 1 for 3 shooting in 13 1/2 minutes in his NBA debut before suffering his injury. When he'll play his second NBA game, sadly, remains very much an open question. Randle will be re-evaluated Wednesday, with an update on his status to follow, according to the Lakers.
Word from #Lakers on Julius Randle - Fractured right tibia, will be transported to hospital, no decision on surgery, but likely.
— Jaime Maggio (@jaimemaggio) October 29, 2014
Virtually as soon as TNT's cameras captured Randle in pain on the floor, well wishes began pouring in via social media:
Praying for the best and a speedy recovery for Julius Randle! Never want to see that happen to anybody….
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) October 29, 2014
Prayers up for Julius Randle..
— Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) October 29, 2014
Prayers go out to Julius Randle. Great kid with a hellava future. #stayprayedup
— Mo Williams (@mowilliams) October 29, 2014
I don't know Julius randle personally....but I hope he has a speedy recovery! Stay strong bro.
— Austin Rivers (@AustinRivers25) October 29, 2014
Our thoughts go out to Julius Randle. We've had our scuffles with LA tonight, but don't wish injury on any one. Here's to a speedy recovery.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) October 29, 2014
Randle's injury provided an exceptionally grim conclusion to an already dismal night for Lakers fans in which a late-game scuffle between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard constituted just about the only highlight. More than that, though, it slows the development of one of the Lakers' most important young pieces, and places a difficult and substantial roadblock in the path of a young man who had only just begun to realize his NBA dream.
Here's hoping that Randle's prognosis is as favorable as it can be, and that he's able to return to the court to resume the promising career that was so depressingly interrupted on opening night.
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