The 2020-21 NBA season was a roller-coaster ride for Kyle Kuzma and the LA Lakers, and it ended miserably after the Phoenix Suns sent them packing six games into the playoffs. The disappointing first-round exit will have management rethinking the Lakers roster from top to bottom with a shakeup likely to come in the next few months.
Among the players who could be on the trading block is Kyle Kuzma, the LA Lakers forward whom they selected 27th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-10 forward had a very inconsistent fourth season that left fans wondering if the Purple and Gold kept the wrong young player in the Anthony Davis trade two summers ago.
Following the LA Lakers’ loss to the Suns in Game 6 last Thursday, Mark Medina of USA TODAY Sports seemed definite that a Kyle Kuzma trade would be coming this offseason.
“…expect Kyle Kuzma to be attached in trade talks considering his team-friendly extension and his failure to have season-long consistency,” Medina wrote.
After averaging 18.7 points per game in LeBron James’ first year with the LA Lakers in 2018-19, Kyle Kuzma’s scoring has dipped to 12.8 and 12.9 points the next two seasons, respectively. Rather than develop into a reliable third scorer for the All-Star duo of James and Davis, Kuzma has stagnated the past two seasons.
It all came crashing down in the 2021 playoffs after he averaged just 6.3 points and shot a horrid 29.2 percent from the field against the Suns.
Is it time for the LA Lakers to trade Kyle Kuzma this summer?
Why the LA Lakers should trade Kyle Kuzma
The next few years are going to be crucial for the LA Lakers, who are in win-now mode. With LeBron James already in the twilight of his career, LA’s championship window is closing fast. Waiting on Kyle Kuzma to develop into a star is not a luxury they can afford.
Every year that James plays is championship or bust mode for the Lakers and they need pieces who fit their two superstars’ games. After two seasons of waiting on Kuzma to find his place in their star system, the upcoming offseason is the perfect time to unload him while he still has value with an opportunity to reach his potential on another team.
The LA Lakers signed Kyle Kuzma to a cap friendly three-year contract extension worth $40 million in December that averages out to $13.3 million a year. A team that can stay patient with the Utah product and doesn’t want to strap itself financially will look at his contract and have very few doubts about wanting to pull the trigger.
This is just Kuzma’s fourth year in the league and he could well be a more productive player given more time. But at this point, the LA Lakers would be far better off getting a ready-made player, preferably a 3-and-D guy, rather than a defensive forward who is still finding his niche in the league.
Why the LA Lakers shouldn’t trade Kyle Kuzma
The problem with sending Kyle Kuzma off to another team lies with the LA Lakers likely not receiving equal value for a relatively young player who is projected to be a part of the LA Lakers’ post-LeBron years.
Kuzma had the highest defensive win share (2.9) on the team and was their sixth-best rebounder (6.1) during the regular season. If they were to search for a player with the same type of contract with equal value production-wise, the Lakers would have to be absolutely sure that they get their money’s worth.
On the developmental side, a more focused offseason workout for Kuzma that takes into account his strengths relative to the team’s needs could get him in line within the LeBron-AD core.
Seeing how the other LA Lakers’ recent draftees fared in their new teams (i.e. Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson) the past couple of years is a good indication that Kyle Kuzma was scouted well when they drafted him four years ago.
Though the LA Lakers want to know for sure what they’re getting from Kuzma on a nightly basis, this offseason will be critical for the 25-year-old to prove that he belongs in Los Angeles.
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