Earlier this week, Brian Windhorst of ESPN made waves when he reported that Kyle Kuzma and his camp were seeking a “sizable” contract extension from the Los Angeles Lakers now that he’s eligible for one.
But Kuzma has always been a polarizing player who generates tons of different opinions on his value, and that hasn’t changed after an up-and-down season in which Kuzma improved in areas that impact winning (his defense and play off the ball), but didn’t score as much and thus saw his reputation around the league decline.
Despite all that, there have been reports that “several” teams still have interest in trading for Kuzma if the Lakers make him available, with him most recently being linked (again) to the San Antonio Spurs in a potential deal for DeMar DeRozan, a report that came on the heels of another one that the Spurs are looking to make some moves.
On Wednesday, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN added to all the smoke, reporting on the “Sedano and LZ Show” that the Lakers have taken trade calls on Kuzma, but are also open to giving him an extension:
“I know that there have been trade conversations with Kuzma, just gauging the market for him. I (also) think the Lakers would be open to signing him to an extension, and I think he would be open to signing an extension here. The question is how big, and for how long, and also what is his role?
“I think last year there was this sense that Kuz was sort of biding his time, that he was playing a role and he was doing it because he was on a championship team and this is great, but he sort of wants to flap his wings a little bit. I think because of that there’s this feeling of ‘is this a match for him long term, does he want to get paid substantially?’”
With the NBA reportedly set to open back up for trades pretty soon, we’ll surely be getting a lot more rumors about Kuzma and other Lakers over the next few weeks, especially with that window opening, the 2020 NBA Draft and free agency all taking place over just about a week or so. However, don’t necessarily expect a deal to get done for Kuzma.
Why? It’s not just that the Lakers are open to extending him. According to Shelburne, the trade offers the Lakers are getting for him just aren’t that great:
“I personally have not heard any trade conversations that are exciting at all with him... I don’t think his value is as high as anybody would assume it is based off of his talent. I don’t think his value on the trade market matches his talent at all. One because he was playing in a complementary role, i.e. not starting last year, two he’s due for a big payday and you have to decide if you want to give him that, and invest in him that way, and three you could just wait for him to hit free agency.
“You could just wait after this year where we have a little more knowledge about where things stand. The Lakers don’t have to do anything. They don’t have to give him this extension. They could just let him play it out.”
The Lakers absolutely could, and that’s why it wouldn’t be surprising to see them hold tight and bet that Kuzma can either recoup some of his value, or thrive in his role next season as he continues to grow and develop. And if he plays his way into a big deal later, the Lakers can always match any offer he gets in restricted free agency next summer. Just like there is no reason they have to trade Kuzma, there is also nothing forcing them to pay him now, either. Just like other teams might want to wait, the Lakers can do so too if Kuzma doesn’t want to agree to a smaller, more favorable extension (which seems unlikely when reading between the lines of all this reporting).
Still, with all this smoke, there has to be some fire at this point. The Lakers are very clearly open to moving Kuzma, which, again, isn’t a total shock based on his underwhelming efficiency last season. I’d personally be inclined to hang on to a cheap contributor who has shown value as a wing defender and cutter in a playoff setting rather than ship him out for a high-volume, expensive and bad shooter like DeRozan who doesn’t defend, but the Lakers may value DeRozan more highly than I do. Kuzma definitely shouldn’t be (and clearly isn’t) untouchable, but it might be worth seeing if the front office can do a little bit better with one of their last remaining chips with some upside.