In their first season with LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers were unable to live up to expectations, but they still have a solid foundation to build going forward with James and the team’s young core, which includes Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma.
Kuzma and James had an especially fruitful relationship on the floor, with James assisting 120 of Kuzma’s field goals this season. Comparatively, Kuzma assisted on just 30 of James’ field goal attempts.
James poked fun at how little he was fed the ball from Kuzma in a recent Instagram post:
Remember when people were concerned about how James would respond to the team’s social media banter? It turns out that was the least of the Lakers’ worries.
That post was just the latest indicator of the relationship James and Kuzma have, and during Kuzma’s exit interview on Wednesday, he said he hasn’t had any problems with his superstar teammate.
“My relationship with him has been good all year. Ever since he came here, I made sure I was right up under him so that I could learn a lot. Anytime you get the chance to play with a great player like that, you want to learn,” Kuzma said. “I want to be a great player and he’s been there, done that. He’s been in the league 16, 17 years, (and been) accomplished every season. It’s been great.”
That synergy between them translated on the court as well. Through 1,445 minutes together, the two-man lineup of James and Kuzma posted a net rating of +2.9 and an offensive rating of 109.1, which was the highest offensive rating of any two-man lineup that featured James (out of such combinations with at least 200 minutes played).
And although they weren’t able to accomplish their shared goal of making the playoffs, Kuzma is confident that he and his young teammates are more than capable of competing for a championship with James, even if the Lakers decide to run things back with James and the young guys next year.
“I mean we were fourth in the west when we were healthy, soooooo,” Kuzma said, pausing for a moment, seeming to imply that he thought the answer was obvious. “For sure.”
Granted, the Lakers were as close to the top seed as they were the 11th seed at the time because of how insane the Western Conference is, but they did look like they were on the brink of figuring it out before James went down with his groin injury on Christmas Day. Would they have stayed at that fourth seed? Probably not, but at the very least they would have likely made the playoffs.
There’s no telling what the future holds for the Lakers, especially because they don’t know for sure who’s going to be calling the shots going forward, but if they can add elite talent without sacrificing their core young players like Kuzma, they’ll be in great shape going into next season.