There isn’t a precedent for what happens when LeBron James gets eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs because, well, it’s never happened before, but it’s safe to assume that changes will be made around him if the Los Angeles Lakers are eliminated by the Phoenix Suns this week.
That could mean a change at the head-coaching position, as it famously has been in the past with underperforming James-led teams, but it’s more likely that it would be a trade — specifically, a trade involving one of the few salary ballasts on their roster, Kyle Kuzma.
Kuzma has been a more impactful player in his fourth season with the Lakers, but, lately, the little things he does have been negated by the big things he’s unable to do when he’s asked to play a bigger role. That’s been especially evident in the games the Lakers have played without Anthony Davis.
Kuzma signed a contract extension with the Lakers in December, but according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, his name has still been brought up in trade talks:
Los Angeles did engage teams with packages involving Kyle Kuzma before March’s trade deadline, sources said. Kuzma begins a three-year, $39 million contract next season.
“They made a bunch of calls,” one assistant general manager told B/R. “They were very active.”
In addition to their pursuit of Lowry, the Lakers were canvassing the league for opportunities to acquire a rookie-scale player who could perhaps bridge this James-Davis chapter and the inevitable post-James future. Before Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury, Los Angeles even inquired about adding Brooklyn’s reserve ball handler in exchange for Kuzma.
The issue for the Lakers with finding a trade partner for Kuzma is getting equal value for him. For all of his faults, Kuzma is on a good contract for the production he provides on the defensive end and that contract looks even better when his shots are falling like they were at the start of the season.
Dinwiddie would have been a fair one-for-one trade for the Lakers in theory, but they likely would have had to pay him north of the $13 million Kuzma is due next season either this summer or next summer. And at that point, you’d probably rather have Kuzma.
That’s not to say finding a trade for Kuzma is impossible, but it’s not as simple as just shipping him out, nor should it be. Whatever the case may be, expect the Lakers to be aggressive this offseason.