When the Los Angeles Lakers first engaged in trade talks with the New Orleans Pelicans for Antony Davis, they made nearly their entire roster available, including all four of their core young players: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma.
However, as time passed and the Pelicans lost some leverage, there was optimism that the Lakers would be able to hold at least one of their young players out of trade talks. To the surprise of many, that player ended up being Kuzma.
It’s not that Kuzma isn’t a valuable asset; it’s just that he’s nearly three years older than Ball and Ingram, and arguably has the least upside, particularly on the defensive end. Still, there are those that believe Kuzma showed enough in his first two seasons to be the last man standing, including his mentor Kobe Bryant.
During a recent interview on Real 92.3 LA’s “The Cruz Show,” Bryant said that he believes that the Lakers made Kuzma untouchable because he has the potential to be a well-rounded player:
“Probably his versatility. I think the game used to be about having specialists on the floor and think it’s gotten away from that to having guys that can play all facets of the game. That includes offensively and defensively, and defensively he has the potential to be a great defensive player, so I think that’s one things they looked at as well as his shooting ability and just his size. I think you put all that in the pot and it made him indispensable for this summer.”
It’s true that Kuzma has shown flashes of having skills outside of scoring, such as rebounding and playmaking, and it’s also true that skilled forwards are invaluable in today’s NBA — arguably even more so than guards. However, the reason that Kuzma was the one to stay and not Ball or Ingram is simple: His contract.
Had the Lakers kept one of Ball or Ingram, they wouldn’t have been able to make a competitive offer for Kawhi Leonard or any of the other 30 percent max free agents like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler or Klay Thompson. Did them cutting costs pay dividends in the end? No, but it was a risk they had take.
Fortunately, Kuzma is a good prospect and has readily available skills that can help Los Angeles win now. He might not end up being as good as Ball or Ingram in the long-term, but he’s good now, which is all the Lakers need him to be next season.