Trade rumors have followed Kyle Kuzma for months, but in the end the Los Angeles Lakers decided not to deal him before the 12:00 p.m. PST NBA trade deadline on Feb. 6. The New York Knicks really tried to get him in a deal for Marcus Morris, but the Lakers held off on such advances, leading Morris to get dealt across the hall to the LA Clippers. They are officially standing pat.
Kuzma has played 187 games over his nearly two-and-a-half seasons with the Lakers, and spent most of the first two as a fan-favorite following his meteoric rise from 27th-overall pick to making the 2018 NBA All-Rookie First Team, with his skill as a scorer and work ethic endearing him to those inside and outside the organization.
This season has seen that change a bit, as on a win-now team Kuzma hasn’t quite fully found his stride while not serving as a frequently featured option, something that’s impossible due to the presence of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He is currently averaging 13.1 points on 43.7% shooting while knocking down 33.7% of his threes.
That noted, Kuzma has recently started trying to find strategies to contribute in other ways, attacking the glass for rebounds like a madman over the last few games. It’s small sign of progress, but a notable one nonetheless.
With a real shot at the title this season, it would have been understandable had the Lakers decided that they couldn’t wait any longer for Kuzma to live up to his full potential when there were options they felt were more likely to help them win now on the trade market.
But it seems there was nothing out there that the Lakers valued more than Kuzma’s current ability, cheap deal and potential upside. Any trade would have also seen them give up on the chance that Kuzma can develop and help them extend their window for title contention.
There is also the reality that Kuzma is Lakers executive Rob Pelinka’s only first-round draft choice left on the roster and one of his biggest “wins” in terms of finding a diamond in the rough, and it may have been unpalatable to give up on such a player so soon, and doubly so to send off a player that Kobe Bryant mentored and member of the Lakers family while the whole organization grieves his passing.
None of this is to say that Kuzma won’t ever be dealt. Over the summer, when all of the Lakers’ two-year deals they signed last offseason become expiring contracts and can be aggregated with Kuzma to trade for a larger-salaried player — at a time when more teams aren’t in season and have a better sense of where they stand following free agency or around the draft — there is still a decent chance that Kuzma gets moved to bring in someone who can help the Lakers more and fits closer to James and Davis’ timeline.
For now, though, any such possibility is a consideration for another day. The Lakers are riding with Kuzma for the rest of the year, and ultimately there is a chance that choice proves prescient. We’ll have plenty more thoughts on what this all means for the team over the next few hours and days, and we’ll get our first look at how Kuzma plays with the weight of trade rumors off his back when the Lakers host the Houston Rockets tonight at 7:30 p.m. PST at Staples Center.
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