The Lakers don’t have a ton of trade assets to use to make themselves better this summer, with only LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Alfonzo McKinnie even under contract for next season. The first two are obviously not going anywhere, Gasol may retire, and McKinnie’s deal is only worth $2 million and non-guaranteed, so would mostly just be salary ballast to help a prospective suitor potentially save some money. By virtue of the trade for Davis, the Lakers’ draft pick war chest is also depleted.
That leaves Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope — both making $13 million next season — as the Lakers’ only real trade options to make their roster better and match salary for a significant contributor. So it should be no surprise that Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report confirmed that the Lakers have tried to figure out how interested teams would potentially be in Kuzma, who is still just 25 and will be under contract for the next three years at the same $13 million salary (the final year is a player option).
However, it doesn’t sound like there are a ton of nibbles on possible Kuzma packages so far, especially if a sign-and-trade for a player who other teams could potentially just sign outright (Dennis Schröder) is still reportedly seen as more appealing (via B/R):
League sources expect Chicago and New York to emerge as Schroder suitors, and both could be conducted via sign-and-trade—although Knicks certainly have the cap space to sign him outright. New York will likely have north of $50 million to spend this summer. Meanwhile, Los Angeles continues to gauge rival teams’ interest in Kyle Kuzma, sources told B/R, although Schroder does carry a higher trade value around the NBA.
Again, this is not surprising, or really even an indictment on Kuzma. As noted above, the Lakers just have extremely limited means to get better this summer. If they’re going to make a deal that isn’t a (probably unlikely) sign-and-trade sending out one of their own free agents, Kuzma would almost assuredly have to be included.
The problem is not that Kuzma is overpaid — his $13 million salary is actually totally reasonable by most estimations. It’s also not that he’s bad — his 2021 playoffs weren’t good, but he’s shown he can contribute to winning. It’s just that his stock is likely a lot lower now that he’s been in the league for a few years, and sort of shown the upper limits of what he could be on a good team. He’s a fine player, but most teams probably don’t see him as a potential foundational piece or future All-Star, even if Kuzma himself still does. That means that he’s probably not going to be the centerpiece of some earth-shattering deal, even if there are surely a few teams that believe in him and would want him in a vacuum. The Lakers just aren’t going to simply give him away, but the other 29 teams probably aren’t going to just give the Lakers the types of win-now players they would want in exchange for Kuzma.
Factor it all together, and voila: You have a likely trade impasse.
Ultimately, we — and the Lakers — will see what the trade market for Kuzma is over the next month or so as the 2021 NBA Draft (July 29) and free agency (Aug. 3) take place. Kuzma combined with the Lakers’ 2021 first-rounder may net the team someone, but it’s just probably not any team’s first choice in trade offers. As dominoes begin to fall, we’ll see if it is anyone’s backup plan, and if the Lakers and Kuzma will continue a marriage that has seen the organization explore his value in trade rumors basically every year he’s been with the team.
Hey, at least he’s used to it by now.