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Why extending Kyle Kuzma should be a priority for the Lakers

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Now more than ever, it makes sense for the Lakers to pay Kyle Kuzma.

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Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Five Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Since 2010, the Los Angeles Lakers have had nine first-round selections in the NBA Draft, including four lottery picks between 2014 and 2017, and none of them signed rookie contract extensions with the team. In fact, the last player to sign a rookie contract extension with the Lakers was Andrew Bynum in 2008.

Kyle Kuzma, who the Lakers drafted with the No. 27 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, is hoping to become the next player to sign a rookie contract extension with Los Angeles, but he’s not losing sleep over it.

“We’ve talked,” Kuzma said during his media day press conference on Thursday. “It’s obviously just talk between my agent and the organization and they’re working through things, so we’ll see.”

The Lakers have until Dec. 21 to try and strike a deal with Kuzma, and they have more incentive to do so after LeBron James and Anthony Davis inked long-term deals this week.

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.

Even if Kuzma doesn’t get much better than he was last season — when he averaged 12.8 points per game on 43.6% shooting from the field — a new, healthy-sized contract would make it easier for the Lakers to accumulate the salaries necessary for a splashy trade. It’s the same logic the Golden State Warriors used when they gave D’Angelo Russell a max contract, even if they’ll never admit it.

For the Lakers, though, signing and trading Kuzma like the Warriors did with Russell should be their last resort because a sign-and-trade would hard cap them once again, and we saw how difficult it is to work under the hard cap this offseason. Again, the Lakers don’t have to trade Kuzma — in fact, it’s entirely possible that he returns to form as he gets more comfortable alongside James and Davis — but extending him would make it easier for them to trade him down the line, keeping multiple options open for themselves. They can either be bolstered by his improvement, or use his contract to acquire someone who can make them better.

Now, will Kuzma’s camp and the front office be able to agree on a price for an extension? That remains to be seen. But for all of the aforementioned reasons, expect the Lakers to be a little more motivated to get a deal done before the Dec. 21 deadline than they were before the last two days.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.