Kyle Kuzma clearly wants to get paid. Whether the Lakers want to be the team to pay him, however, is another question entirely.
Kuzma is reportedly seeking a “sizable” contract extension from the Lakers now that he’s eligible for one. And while the team has shopped him in possible trades this offseason, there have also been reports that they’re “open” to extending him. During his Zoom call with the media on Thursday, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka confirmed that interest.
“In terms of Kuz, since we drafted him he’s been terrific, we’ve all seen his growth. As you guys know, the way the rules work, he has next season under contract with the Lakers and he’s extension eligible this offseason,” Pelinka said. “He has great representation, and when the time is right we’ll sit down and speak with them.”
With free agency starting on Friday and given how much Kuzma wants on his next deal, it’s not surprising that Pelinka has decided that the time for those conversations is not now. Kuzma is currently owed around $3.6 million in the final year of his rookie deal, and the Lakers can make him a restricted free agent next summer with a relatively small qualifying offer of $5.3 million.
Pelinka said on Thursday that the Lakers are looking to maintain flexibility as they build this team, and want to keep their window open as long as possible. He’s also admitted before that the team wants to pair Anthony Davis with another star in the future, potentially as soon as next summer.
Extending Kuzma to a larger contract would make both of those goals potentially tougher, at least in free agency. Right now Kuzma’s contract is cheap, which gives the Lakers more room in 2021. But that cap space goes away the second Kuzma is signed to an eight-figure extension, making it seem unlikely that the Lakers will do so before they have to. Unless they get a discount, which does not sound very likely as of right now.
Still, Pelinka appreciates what Kuzma brings to the Lakers, and thinks he’ll play an even more key role as they look to defend their title.
“We’re proud of drafting Kuz (and) we’re incredibly proud of his growth as a player. I think he showed in the bubble his ability to play at the wing and the four,” Pelinka said. “When you lose a defender and a wing player like Danny Green, I think Kyle, we’re going to count on him to step in and play some of that wing role as well. He has the versatility to do it.”
Pelinka is notorious for playing things close to the vest, but at the risk of reading too much between the lines, the next part of his answer suggested he doesn’t necessarily expect Kuzma to be gone after this season, extension or not.
“He’s going to be a great player for us and I expect that he will continue to grow next season,” Pelinka said.
Read that again. “He’s going to be a great player for us.” Maybe he just means next season, but given how much this organization likes Kuzma and respects his work ethic and talent, in addition to him being one of the first draft picks under Pelinka, don’t be surprised to see him stick around, extension or no. Especially if he continues to grow and improve while the Lakers look to repeat.