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Lakers Mailbag: Kyle Kuzma impresses in Las Vegas, Luol Deng’s disastrous contract

Things are looking good for the summer league Lakers.

2017 Las Vegas Summer League - Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are in the final stretch of play at Las Vegas Summer League, heading to the seminfinals on Sunday. It’s been an exciting look at the future of the team watching Lonzo Ball’s progress game-by-game.

Away from Sin City, the Lakers made headlines when their patience finally paid off in free agency. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is heading to Los Angeles, their big splash of the summer.

It felt like the right time to get in a mailbag before Summer League ends, so let’s dig into it, shall we?

Feel free to shoot any Lakers questions to SSRmailbag@gmail.com and I’ll spend some time gathering them up week-to-week.

Of the rooks, whose summer league success can you see translating to regular season and why?

This is a question from last time around that I saved for later, mostly because I simply hadn’t seen enough playing time in Las Vegas to have a strong opinion yet. There’s a lot to like about Lonzo’s passing, but I want to focus on someone else: Kyle Kuzma.

Kuzma has been a revelation, and the Lakers should be thrilled with what they’re getting out of the No. 27 pick. He’s been a constant target for Ball when he pushes the pace, outrunning opposing defenders. He’s even joked about being Randy Moss on some of the full court heaves he’s hauled in.

Kuzma’s averaging 19.8 points per game, doing some serious damage from beyond the arc. Kyle is putting up 6.6 three-point attempts per game while shooting 39.4 percent from downtown. The Lakers desperately need shooting, and Kuzma looks like the best perimeter marksman among the rookies they drafted. It’s only sweetened by the fact he can do so slotted as a power forward.

Can he find minutes with Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr. in front of him? Kuzma was asked if he feels he can play small forward following the Lakers win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday and said he considers himself a basketball player, not specifically a power forward.

What can make him even more valuable is if he can build of the defensive flashes he’s shown throughout summer league. He’s defended multiple positions and Lakers summer league head coach Jud Buechler said he’s seen improvement on that end of the floor in each game.

Ball’s going to have the keys from day one, but Kuzma looks like the next player in line that deserves a chance to expand on the success he’s found in Las Vegas.

Do you know of ANY teams that would want to take on Luol Deng and that monstrosity of a contract? Is there hope we find a taker sometime soon?

Luol Deng questions were rampant in the mailbag this week, and rightfully so. The more we see the performance of the Las Vegas Summer League squad, the harder it becomes to see how Deng ever looks effective on the Lakers.

The only hope for him at this point is at power forward, but it’s hard to see him deserving playing time over Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Jr. and even Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma’s been the most impressive non-Lonzo Laker on a nightly basis in Las Vegas, and he looks like a worthwhile investment from a development standpoint immediately.

I don’t believe there’s a single team that would look at Deng as a positive for their team right now. If his contract wasn’t as bloated there’d be a possibility, but his on-court value compared to the remaining $54 million over three years on his deal is lopsided as it gets, aside from Timofey Mozgov.

The Lakers only get out of Deng in the same fashion they got rid of Mozgov, which is something I touched on in the last mailbag. If Los Angeles feels pressure to get out of that contract in order to make way for the summer of 2018, things could get interesting at the trade deadline.

Could you see Brook Lopez getting traded at the deadline to a contender as a rental?

Lopez could definitely be in the mix at the trade deadline as a sought after piece for teams. If he proves through the first few months of the season that his three-point shooting is real — the numbers point to that being the case — there will definitely be teams interested in adding a floor-spacing big man on an expiring contract into the mix.

The Lakers view him as a player that fits logistically into what they’re trying to accomplish on offense, and Brook is going to a big help to the team immediately. Watching Lonzo play during summer league has shown he’s going to be passing the ball more than scoring, which means Lopez is going to have plenty of opportunities to eat.

There’s a fairly good chance Brook leads the team in scoring next season, and there’s also a fairly good chance the Lakers look a LOT better as a team overall. Depending on how things go, the front office may want to hold steady through the season and see how it plays out having Lopez all year.

It’s hard to say what would be best for the Lakers from this standpoint. They’ve needed a quality center for years and finally have one. He’s on an expiring deal, may not be in the team’s long-term plans and could fetch a reasonable return for a team looking for that final piece.

Will the Lakers move him? Honestly, it’s hard to say when he hasn’t even played a game yet, but it makes sense that they’ll consider all options.

Detroit Pistons v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Two Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

What do you think about the KCP signing? Is this an indication that the Lakers are becoming more attractive to free agents, or was it just kind of the perfect situation created by their patience?

Signing Caldwell-Pope was about as perfect as it gets for the Lakers. He’s still very young (24 years old) but has solid experience already. He accepted a one-year deal, which is exactly what the Lakers were hoping to do. He provides a huge boost to the team’s defense, an area the front office stated was a focus in free agency.

The Lakers needed backcourt depth and walked away with a new starter at shooting guard. This bumps Jordan Clarkson down to the sixth man role, which better suits his game and the team. It also lets the coaching staff assign Kentavious onto the tougher guard matchup night-to-night, which should be a huge help while Lonzo gets accustomed to playing against NBA talent every night.

I’m not sure this is an indication that the Lakers are looking like an attractive option again, or if that whole perception has been more smoke than fire all along. Kentavious took the one-year deal, but players like George Hill and Dion Waiters took larger multi-year deals elsewhere.

That leads me to believe that it had more to do with the prudent process Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took into free agency. The Lakers were patient and didn’t throw regretful contracts around just to land a guy. The payout on the other end — getting a young player that checks off just about every box they had going into the offseason — was well worth it.

Thanks for checking out the inaugural mailbag! I’ll try to answer 3-5 questions per week at a minimum, so get them in to SSRmailbag@gmail.com.