The Los Angeles Lakers have a difficult decision to make with Kyle Kuzma this offseason. When the free agency window opens later this month, Kuzma will be eligible to sign an extension to his rookie contract, which he can opt out of in 2021.
If Kuzma was a restricted free agent last summer, it’s safe to assume the Lakers would have worked something out with him pretty quickly because he averaged over 15 points per game in his first two seasons with the team. However, Kuzma took a backseat to LeBron James and Anthony Davis last season and his numbers suffered because of it, at least on offense. Because of those things, his value has never been harder to gauge.
Unless you ask Kuzma’s camp, apparently. During the most recent episode of Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective, Windhorst reported that Kuzma is looking to get paid handsomely in his next contract (h/t Heavy.com)
“Then you got Kuzma, who is extension eligible, still has a year left on his contract but is extension eligible,” Windhorst said on the Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast. “And from what I understand, [he] is expecting a sizable deal, hoping for a sizable deal.”
This honestly shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. For one, Kuzma is the third-leading scorer among players that were drafted in 2017 even after his numbers dropped in his junior season. Only Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum has scored more. He’s worth more than the $3.5 million he’ll make this season.
More than that, though, Kuzma’s outright said he expects to get paid in his next contract.
“I mean, I’m gonna get paid regardless so I don’t really care,” Kuzma told reporters in July, when Kuzma and a handful of other third-year players met with the NBA to try and get some insurance for the Orlando bubble.
“It’s gonna happen one day. So I don’t think about that.”
So, the question the Lakers have to ask themselves over the next few months is this: Is Kuzma more valuable to them in the long-term, or is he more valuable to them as an asset in a trade for a more proven player? Let’s use Spencer Dinwiddie as an example.
Dinwiddie and Kuzma will probably command similar contracts in 2021, when their contracts will expire. The difference between Kuzma and Dinwiddie, though, is that Dinwiddie averaged 20.6 points per game last season, whereas Kuzma averaged just 12.8 points per game. Plus, they’re only two years apart in age, and Dinwiddie doesn’t play the same position as James or Davis.
Dinwiddie’s just one example, though. There are a handful of other players that are better fits with the Lakers than Kuzma is right now, and they can probably be had for a trade package centered around Kuzma, the No. 28 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and salary filler.
Now, the Lakers obviously have a better idea of what Kuzma expects in his next contract than I do — and they’ll have an even better idea when they start negotiations this winter — but the only thing that will shift the narrative that Kuzma is more valuable as an asset than he is as a player is a bounce-back fourth year. Let’s hope that happens, or moving him is only going to be harder.