For the first time in 12 years, the Los Angeles Lakers have signed a player to a rookie contract extension. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Kyle Kuzma is inking a new deal to remain in purple and gold for the foreseeable future, the first player drafted by the team to sign such a contract since Andrew Bynum in 2008.
Player option on a non-max rookie extension is a first in league, a creative wrinkle that allows Kuzma into unrestricted free agency in his prime at 28. Smart move and great benefit for Kuzma should he out-perform this deal headed into summer of 2023.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 20, 2020
Like all rookie extensions, Kyle Kuzma will have a poison pill restriction.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) December 20, 2020
For trade purposes, the current contract of $3.6M will count as outgoing salary.
For incoming salary of the acquiring team, the average of the last year of his contract and extension is used- $10.9M.
Rob Pelinka has some praise for Kyle Kuzma as the team announces his extension pic.twitter.com/5YMlEm8dm5— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 20, 2020
$40 million may sound like a lot, but $13.3 million a year is actually pretty good value, and right around what Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in free agency this summer. This is a solid deal that Kuzma could easily outperform, and will be movable if he doesn’t continue to produce. For him and his team, it’s a solid middle-ground that gets him paid now while allowing for a bigger deal down the road if he continues to improve. And probably not coincidentally, the summer of 2023 is also the year LeBron James’ current deal expires, allowing Kuzma and the Lakers to both see where they’re at by that point.
This outcome did not appear likely as recently as Thursday, when Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register reported that Kuzma and the Lakers had “tabled” extension talks, news that came a day after Kuzma said he had “no idea” what his role on this team is. And given that it has appeared for quite a while that Kuzma and his camp were seeking more money than the Lakers were willing to commit, it appeared to be a near certainty that Kuzma was heading towards restricted free agency this summer.
Instead, the Lakers evidently decided that they wouldn’t be able to sign a player this summer for as much as they signed Kuzma for, and opted to keep the player they loved enough to keep out of the Anthony Davis trade under contract for years to come, rather than risk losing a player they scouted, drafted and developed for nothing in the summer, with limited means to replace him — all during a summer when tons of teams have cap space with few players to throw it at.
For Kuzma, this presumably lifts a burden. With his long-term financial future set, he doesn’t have to worry about playing for a contract, or how trying to fit into the role the Lakers want from him could affect his earnings down the road. His new deal is secure, so he can focus solely on contributing to winning basketball, rather than where he’ll go next.
For the team, this allows them even further certainty in their long-term planning, especially when coupled with their recent extensions for James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers can make trades and limited free agent signings moving forward, but for the most part this is their roster now, and Rob Pelinka, Frank Vogel and everyone else involved know what they have to work with as they continue to compete for titles. From that perspective, locking in a little certainty is probably a relief for everyone. Plus, the team has long loved Kuzma’s approach and work ethic, so all things being equal, they likely wanted to keep him in-house, no matter how unlikely that outcome seemed a week ago.
This contract will be polarizing because everything with Kuzma is in this community, but given where Kuzma and the Lakers are both at right now, it really does seem like a win-win. Congrats to the former No. 27 pick on getting his money, and congrats to the Lakers on finding a player there that was eventually worth extending. This scouting department really is undefeated.