A debate that has become never-ending since the rise of social media seemingly made market size less relevant has been how much players actually want to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
This topic gets re-heated multiple times a year, and it’s crossed over into debates about whether or not stars want to play with Kobe Bryant in the past, and more recently, whether they’d like to team up with LeBron James. Over the last year since James has joined the team, countless hours on talking head shows were spent arguing over whether stars still want to play with him, or for the Lakers.
Ultimately the team went one-for-two on stars this summer, acquiring Anthony Davis before getting spurned by Kawhi Leonard, with the latter passing on the opportunity seemingly — at least in part — because of how much extra attention and nonsense being a Laker seems to come with.
As part of a longer discussion that was touching on how many trade rumors there were about the team at the deadline and the effect it had on the Lakers’ locker room, Cari Champion of ESPN asked Kuzma how difficult it is to be a young Laker, given the amount of extra scrutiny the franchise attracts from fans and the media alike.
Kuzma says there is nothing like it:
“Not everybody can be cut out to be a Laker. It’s a little bit harder than any other team because of all the scrutiny of being a Laker, but for me I think I’ve always been ready for it, from the day I kind of got here and put my hard hat on and went to work. It’s definitely not for everybody. You have to be mentally at a level to stay at it.”
On one hand, it’s kind of amusing to hear Kuzma — who only just finished his second year in the NBA, and has spent both with the Lakers — talking like a grizzled vet who has been all over the league. But to be fair, he has friends on other teams, and has likely been able to swap stories with them.
And outside of that, Kuzma isn’t wrong. While discussions about whether or not a player “knows what it means to be a Laker” have become so trite as to only be worth of parody at this point, the team does actually have sizably more media covering it and digging for stories, and more fans constantly engaging with the players online in the social media age. Any player who checks their mentions or reads online will notice that kind of stuff, and the Lakers are seemingly always in the news, which Kuzma is correct to note wouldn’t be optimal for every player.
For players who carefully manage their brand and online presence to help them become a fan-favorite like Kuzma has, then that extra attention is probably a blessing. It always feels good to be relevant, and there are financial benefits that come with that in the form of endorsements and other such perks.
On the other hand, though, it might be tough for some players who aren’t as beloved by the fans as Kuzma is to deal with the rollercoaster of praise and criticism that encapsulates fandom, especially when it’s as loud as it is with the Lakers. It really isn’t for everyone.
That doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with players who can’t handle the crucible, but Kuzma has seemingly thrived on it so far. Whatever you think of the rest of his game, that is an admittedly impressive intangible quality, and might be a reason for the Lakers to value him — and his proven ability at dealing with such scrutiny — a bit more than people outside of the organization might.