When it comes to the possibility of Kyle Kuzma getting an extension before the Dec. 21 deadline, the writing appears to be increasingly on the wall: It looks more and more like he’ll have to play his way into his next contract.
A month ago, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said that the team had not discussed an extension with Kuzma, but complimented Kuzma’s “terrific” growth since the Lakers drafted him in 2017. A few weeks later, Kuzma admitted the two sides had talked, but didn’t sound super confident about the possibility of an impending payday.
Kyle Kuzma confirms that his agent and the Lakers have discussed an extension.— TV's Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 3, 2020
"They're working through things, so we'll see."
Since then, Kuzma has said he has “no idea” what his role on this Lakers team will be, and based on the latest report from Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register, it would appear that the same goes for where he’ll play next season:
The status of those discussions? Tabled for now. Kuzma met with Vogel and General Manager Rob Pelinka at the beginning of the month to feel out his role for the season, a person with knowledge of the situation told SCNG, and to get a sense for his future with the organization. Kuzma came away from the meeting with a sense that he would have to scrap for on-court opportunities.
Pelinka could still meet with Kuzma’s camp before the regular season starts to make an extension offer, though there was no definite plan to do so as of Thursday afternoon.
With the Lakers basically capped out for the foreseeable future, the arguments for them to give Kuzma an extension are clear, and my colleague Christian Rivas made them well earlier this month:
With James and Davis set to make a combined $76.5 million for the 2021-22 season and $82.4 million the following season, the Lakers aren’t expected to be in the mix for star free agents until at least 2023. That’s not to mention Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s new contract, Marc Gasol’s two-year, veteran’s minimum contract and Luol Deng’s dead salary, all of which are on the Lakers’ books through 2022.
Right now, the Lakers have $97.8 million in guaranteed salary committed for the 2021-22 season, and that doesn’t include the cap holds of their impending 2021 free agents. That’s significant when you take into account that the salary cap for the 2021-22 season is projected to be $112.4 million.
Before James and Davis signed their new deals, an extension for Kuzma was an afterthought because it seemed like the priority for the Lakers was to preserve cap space for 2021, when Giannis Antetokounmpo is expected to become an unrestricted free agent. Now, it feels like a must for the Lakers because extending Kuzma is the best path they to have improving their roster while James and Davis are under contract.
That is true whether Kuzma improves, or if the Lakers use his suddenly bigger contract to get a player who can more immediately help them in a trade. So what might the hold up be on the this extension? It’s simple: The two sides may have very different valuations of where Kuzma is at.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported in November that Kuzma is seeking a “sizable” extension, and it seems unlikely that the Lakers not really being able to have cap space next summer anymore has changed that, because all it did was increase the leverage of Kuzma’s camp in extension talks. Now, his representatives can tell the Lakers that they can either pay Kuzma and make him happy, or piss him off by sending him to restricted free agency, where they could face a choice between either matching a larger-than-expected offer sheet from another team, or losing a player they drafted and developed for nothing, and then having to replace Kuzma’s production with small salary exceptions. That scenario probably isn’t very palatable for the Lakers, but giving Kuzma an extension in the high eight-figures based on his play last year — albeit with some promising signs this preseason too — is probably even less digestible.
Basically, Kuzma’s camp has very little incentive to take less than they want, given that the market has born out max contracts for pretty much every other rookie extension in Kuzma’s class and the Lakers’ lack of an ability to easily replace him, while the Lakers probably don’t feel comfortable giving Kuzma a gigantic payday yet. If neither side blinks, then it seems they’ll be at an impasse past the deadline, and Kuzma will be playing for his next contract during a 2020-21 season in which his role looks as uncertain as ever.