Kyle Kuzma has made it clear that he thinks he can fit in perfectly with his new Los Angeles Lakers teammates, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. In fact, Kuzma thinks he can be their third star, in part because of how well his skillset looks set to translate to a team where he’ll have the ball less than ever.
Embracing such a role isn’t an easy transition for every young player to make, and Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram both faced different kind of adjustment periods when the Lakers added a bunch of playmakers (including James) last summer. Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN that he thinks it wasn’t great for Ball and Ingram individually:
“For those guys, especially speaking of Zo, BI, they are best when they have the ball in their hands. It is kind of tough when we get vets that are ball-dominant guys. So it kind of stunted their growth.”
That’s candid stuff from Kuzma, and whether you agree partially depends on where you see Ball and Ingram’s ceilings. For those who see them as sub-star-level players, having to adjust to playing with James might be viewed as a good thing, an experience to allow Ball and Ingram to slot into their more natural roles as supplementary players.
Kuzma sees things differently. He thinks that Ball and Ingram needed the ball in their hands more in order to hit their full potential, and it’s why he thinks that Ball and Ingram were pumped up to end up with the New Orleans Pelicans after the Davis trade went down:
”They were excited,” Kuzma said of Ingram, Ball and Hart after the trade. “It’s a little bit less pressure. They didn’t [actually] say that. But obviously being in L.A., there’s more pressure. They can be themselves now. They can go to New Orleans and develop into the superstars they were supposed to be.”
Kuzma has said before that he doesn’t think every player is “cut out to be a Laker,” and whether one agrees with that assessment or not, it’s no secret that at the very least Ball was excited to no longer be one, saying he was “kind of excited” when the team traded him and that the move was “good news.” Ingram rarely talks, so who knows what he thinks, although it’s fair to guess that he might be kind of happy about the chance to test the upper limits of his potential in New Orleans, to see if he can become the superstar Kuzma thinks he can be in New Orleans.
The other reality is that the trade probably didn’t come as a surprise to Ball, Ingram or teammate Josh Hart. The debacle that was the leakiest trade deadline in recent history made it clear that all of them were likely to get moved to New Orleans, although Kuzma says the Lakers weren’t in a rush to give up on the young core. It was just something that had to be done to pair James and Davis. He still thinks the team’s former young core could have all been special together if not for injuries and the change in circumstances:
“Really, they told all of us,” Kuzma said of the Lakers not wanting to part with their former first-round picks. “They didn’t want to trade none of us, obviously. We were a great young group of guys that had a lot of promise. Anytime you got three, four young guys as a core in the NBA, you don’t want to trade those guys. But you have an opportunity to get a generational talent, stuff is bound to happen.”
Kuzma added, “I thought that we made some growth over the two years together. Obviously, a lot of people didn’t necessarily see it because of injuries -- BI, Zo not really playing a lot of games over the past two years. But when we played together and we were on the court together, good things happened.”
He’s not wrong, but while the trade for Davis isn’t a sure thing by any means, it’s a likelier gamble on a chance at a title than waiting out the growth and development of players who might be good one day.
Ball, Ingram and Hart could all end up being special in their own ways, but at this point it seems unlikely that any of them ever get as good as Davis is right now. If they hit their full potential, this trade could be a win for the Pelicans, but by getting Davis, the transaction is already a win for the Lakers. For now, all that matters is that pretty much all the teams and players involved are happy about where things stand, meaning that this deal has the chance to be one of the rare win-win trades in NBA history. That’s something for all sides to be excited about.