Kyle Kuzma’s rise with the Lakers from a surprise first-round draft pick to an NBA champion quickly made him a fan-favorite. Beginning with a breakout Summer League performance, Kuzma established himself as a key piece of the Lakers young core.
His connection to the fans grew after he was the lone youngster not included in the Anthony Davis trade. His reinvention from microwave scorer on a lottery team to glue guy role player on a championship team was one of the best stories for the Lakers when they reached the apex inside the bubble in 2020.
All of those connections made parting ways with Kuzma a bittersweet moment when he was traded for Kyle Kuzma this summer, even if some fans had begun to grow frustrated with his inconsistent play. While trades can often be a result of or lead to messy divorces, Kuzma discussed his feelings on the trade and the Lakers in his appearance on “No Chill with Gilbert Arenas,” insisting there were no hard feelings on his behalf.
“Nah, it’s all love. It’s all love for sure. A couple days after I got traded, (LeBron and I) were hanging out, just hanging out, chilling. Even the organization — especially for me, I came into the Lakers and it’s all I know. It was family from the jump. Even leaving, it was family. Getting texts or calls from (owner) Jeanie (Buss) or (general manager) Rob (Pelinka) or equipment managers or people that just work the front gate, everyone is like ‘Hope you have a successful career. You’re doing this, you’re doing that.’ No bitterness. No nothing, for sure, 100%.”
The Lakers’ family atmosphere around the organization played a big role in Kuzma feeling welcome when he arrived, flourishing while in Los Angeles and not feeling resentment as he departs. Earlier in the same interview with Arenas, Kuzma discussed how owner Jeanie Buss has created that family environment.
“Jeanie does a great job of making everything family over there. Like, it’s really a family. I’ve talked to everyone. Part of that’s because of who I am. I’m inquisitive, I want to ask questions, I want to see what you saw back in your day because that’s where I’m trying to get to. So, like, having Kobe, talking to Shaq, James Worthy’s there, Robert Horry’s there. You see just so many eras of Lakers greats and they all want to see you be successful because of the brand. It’s really within you. When you’re here for a long time, especially for a long time, (the brand’s) like stamped.”
Even if his final year as his play dipped in an injury-riddled season, Kuzma’s departure — along with Alex Caruso’s — brings the end to a certain era of Lakers basketball. While the rebuilding years weren’t always the most successful, they did come with a certain amount of joy of games without expectations while watching young players develop.
In departing with Kuzma, that specific era has had the chapter closed on it. Fortunately, it’s a separation between Kuzma and the Lakers that came without the hard feelings or bitterness which could set the table for a potential return down the road, which the Lakers showed they were open to this summer.
This story may update with more information. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.