The Los Angeles Lakers very easily could have used up their cap space next season to make additions more widely seen as “solid” next year, but instead opted to trust in the development of young players like Kyle Kuzma to bolster the roster around LeBron James.
However, any time the concept of youth is brought up in professional sports, analysis tends to jump to the conclusion that the team in question doesn’t care about the immediate future.
Kuzma isn’t having any of that, as he told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.
“I don’t know why people kind of just rule us out because we are young,” said Kuzma, who was a first-team All-Rookie performer after averaging 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. “We are hungry, we are competitive. Anybody that watched us play last year, we were in a lot of games.”
”Having one of the greatest players of all time is going to raise what we do, raise our level of focus and the team to a higher level. I don’t really see why [there is a need to be] so patient.”
So, there are a couple points in here.
First, Kuzma is absolutely right to feel like people aren’t giving the young core enough credit for what they’re capable of with LeBron there to help them develop on and off the court. Because of James’ presence, any discussion as to whether the Lakers might struggle to make the playoffs even if everyone remains healthy is, well, asinine, and overlooks a recent trend of younger players being legitimately productive for teams with postseason aspirations.
Kuzma touches on a point that I don’t think has been made enough: That somehow LeBron, the player who makes everyone around him better, will somehow have less of that impact on this Lakers team. He phrases it kind of awkwardly in that second half of the quote, but it does seem to feel like the Lakers’ detractors are correlating patience with a lack of competitiveness, and Kuzma takes issue with that stance.
One thing that makes this season so fascinating is that LeBron is heading into it something of an underdog — not just as it’s been in recent years because of the Golden State Warriors’ greatness, but in a more league-wide sense. You’d have to go back to some of his very early years to find another instance in which he hasn’t been expected to contend for a title.
So, for Kuzma, James and the rest of the Lakers, they get to come into next season in a fairly decent spot. No one expects the Lakers to legitimately contend for a title, but they’re more than capable of proving a ton of people wrong simply because of how low the bar has been set, while also developing along the way.
As I’ve said all along this summer, patience is the right move so as to keep the ceiling on what this franchise is capable of while LeBron is in L.A. as high as possible. Instead of giving up young assets, the Lakers are better off waiting to just sign a second star in free agency next summer.
That doesn’t have to mean they won’t be competitive this year though, and as Kuzma points out, doubting LeBron has been a tremendous way to look hilariously stupid over the course of his career.