Being a Laker has always been a double-edged sword. If you are great and win, you are a legend and will be loved in one of the greatest cities in America. If you lose or underperform, you will be criticized by both Laker haters and Laker fans at an alarming rate. It’s one of the reasons why Kobe said he didn’t believe in recruiting someone to come to Los Angeles.
“The thing about this franchise is that you shouldn’t need recruiting to come here. It takes a special person to want to play for this franchise and take the pressure that comes along with playing for this franchise.” Kobe Bryant told ESPN’s Jalen Rose back in 2018. “The pressure of following Magic’s footsteps, and myself, and the dynasty that we’ve had. It takes a special person to do that. If I need to convince you to come here to carry that legacy forward, you ain’t the one to be here.”
On Tuesday, Kyle Kuzma shared similar thoughts on ESPN’s “NBA Today” about his time as a Laker and the challenges that came with wearing the purple and gold while LeBron was on the team.
“Obviously when you’re playing in a big market, you’re playing in L.A., you’re always going to have a lot of drama, right? And then when you’re playing with one of the all-time greats in LeBron, it’s gonna add even more drama. And you have to fight through it. You have to be strong-minded... When you’re a role player, you have to be ready for that moment, and sometimes it’s tough. There’s a lot of outside noise, there’s a lot of white noise, and playing in those types of markets, it definitely touches your mental toughness and challenges it too.”
"I probably watched every Laker game [last year]. I haven't really watched too much this year. Things are drastically different for sure... When you're playing in LA, you're always going to have a lot of drama."— ’ (@_Talkin_NBA) November 15, 2022
Kyle Kuzma on the Lakers#NBATwitter #LakeShow pic.twitter.com/CQAEo79FjP
It’s no surprise that Kyle Kuzma shared similar thoughts as Kobe on the pressure of being a Laker. He talked with Kobe and learned much from him through his training sessions, dinners, and conversations on trade rumors with Bryant. The different aspect of Kuzma’s experience is his time with LeBron. With stan culture emerging during LeBron’s era and his fans being as committed to his success, it created a scenario where the role players are in a lose-lose situation. If the team wins, “LeBron is great”; if they lose, “LeBron needs help trade player X.”
Add to that all the Lakers and LeBron James haters and you have a lot of eyes on every game and every person. For example, the Lakers finished last year with a sub .500 record, and are still bad with a 3-10 record, but because they have LeBron James and are the Lakers, they have 39 nationally televised games — which is the fourth highest in the league. That’s a lot of eyes on you, with just as many cheering for your success as hoping for your demise.
Ultimately as Kobe said, it takes a special person to play for this franchise. You have to be a star in your role, and give 100% effort. If you do that, you can shine and have success here which will catapult your career. Malik Monk, Alex Caruso, and Lonzo Ball come to mind as players who had great seasons with the Lakers and received huge paydays afterward. The same is true for stars like Pau Gasol, Anthony Davis, and Kareem Abdul-Jabar. They all went to another level of NBA royalty due to their success with the LakeShow.
However, for every Anthony Davis and Malik Monk, there is a Dwight Howard or Chris Mihm. A player who didn’t pan out or wasn’t able to understand the pressure and demand of excellence this franchise requires if you want to stay long term. So, where does Kyle Kuzma lie on that spectrum? I think he’s closer to Monk than Mihm. He was a star in his role, got paid, and won a championship. The trade that dealt him out of Los Angeles was an attempt to go all in on a three-star team, and we have seen how that has panned out. I don’t see these comments from Kuzma as sour grapes or unfair criticism, just the realities of being a Laker in the LeBron James era.