On Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers will get back Kyle Kuzma, one of six returning players from last year’s roster. However, Kuzma — who has yet to play this season — will be returning to a team that looks drastically different from the one he played for last year.
Once the starting power forward on a young team, Kuzma will come off the bench and play off of the Lakers’ new superstar duo, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It’s for that reason that head coach Frank Vogel told reporters after practice on Thursday that he expects there to be a learning curve with Kuzma initially (via Lakers.com):
“It’s a challenge, but he’s got some familiarity with the guys that were here last year and obviously he’s a sponge, so as we were implementing our system throughout training camp and whatnot he was on the sidelines, paying attention in film sessions, all those types of things. It’ll be a little bit of a learning curve for him, but hopefully it doesn’t take too long.”
As Kuzma works to get his wind and bounce back, Vogel said he’ll be on a minutes restriction:
Kyle Kuzma said he'll be on a minutes restriction of about 20 minutes tonight. Frank Vogel clarified it's 15-20. "He only heard one number," Vogel said with a smile. Kuzma is so excited.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) November 1, 2019
And despite his excitement, Kuzma conceded that conditioning might be an issue for him:
Kyle Kuzma says he’ll play up to 20 minutes tonight vs. Dallas. He joked that his conditioning might be a little lacking.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) November 1, 2019
“Hopefully I don’t die and need CPR tonight,” he said.
Kuzma has practiced only once since sustaining a stress reaction in his left ankle in August.
Vogel also wants to play Kuzma on the ball initially and see how much he’s grown as a playmaker:
”You can only watch so much on tape in a different environment then we’ve created this year, and we’ll have to just evaluate day to day with that stuff. We’re gonna be aggressive and put him positions to make plays and to play-make, and we’ll just evaluate and see where it goes from there.”
Best-case scenario, Kuzma looks great as a playmaker while he gets acclimated to the speed of the game and the cuts he’s used to making. Worst-case, Kuzma takes a few games to look like himself, which is a totally fair expectation for someone that hasn’t played five-on-five since August.
We’ll find out which Kuzma the Lakers get at 6:30 p.m. PST on ESPN.