Kyle Kuzma spent four up-and-down years with the Lakers, becoming a favorite both among the team and its fans for his easygoing personality while enjoying varying levels of on-court success after bursting onto the scene during his breakout rookie year. Because Kuzma was a promising young Laker in the late 2010s, it also meant that he was perpetually in trade rumors until he got dealt to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Russell Westbrook last summer.
Unlike the Lakers and Westbrook right now, however, there does not appear to be any real bad blood between Kuzma and the team that drafted him. LeBron James had nothing but praise who Kuzma was when the two were teammates in L.A., and also who he has become with a bigger role in Washington.
“Seeing Kuz’s development this year has been so amazing,” James said after dropping 50 points in the Lakers’ win over the Wizards on Friday. “His playmaking, his shotmaking, his decision-making throughout this season... it’s always a great feeling when you see your teammates that you were in a foxhole with and won a championship (with), because you know how much blood, sweat, tears and everything that went into trying to accomplish that.”
The highlight of that championship season for Kuzma came in the sliver of 2020 NBA bubble play reserved for finishing out the regular season. It was then that Kuzma knocked down a game-winning corner 3-pointer against the Denver Nuggets, providing a huge confidence boost for a Lakers team still trying to figure out at the time whether they could pick up their championship pursuit where they left off before the onset of COVID-19.
That was just one of many fond memories Frank Vogel had from his two seasons coaching Kuzma.
“Kuz is a fun guy to coach,” Vogel said before Friday’s game. “He’s a fun guy to be around every day and talk the game (with). He loves to think the game, he loves to learn and grow. It’s tough to say one moment.”
Kuzma also received a warm ovation from Lakers fans when his tribute video was shown on Friday, as it marked his and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s first trip back to play the Lakers in
Staples Center Crypto.com Arena since they were dealt to the Wizards.
He had nothing but kind words to say back towards the Lakers, their fans, and his time with the organization, both on Twitter and to the media postgame:
1/3 Kyle Kuzma on Lakers' fans giving him a warm welcome tonight: "It means I've got a legacy here at the end of the day. This is the team that drafted me. I spent four years here. Laker Nation and being a Laker is forever in my heart. ...— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) March 12, 2022
3/3 Kuzma (cont'd.): "... coming to L.A. and just making some noise. That's the American dream, honestly, for me. I loved it here and I'm glad to hear for the fans to be so receptive who love me."— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) March 12, 2022
LA ❤️✌ ☮️— kuz (@kylekuzma) March 12, 2022
It may pale in comparison to the criticism — whether deserved or undeserved — that Westbrook is getting currently from Lakers fans, but Kuzma dealt with his own critics during his struggles as a Laker.
However, he’s not dwelling on the past, and he’s comfortable with his legacy as a member of a title-winning Lakers team, as he told told Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register:
“I think people that really understood basketball really appreciated me, and understand what it takes to sacrifice and win championships,” he said. “Just understanding my sacrifice and how many hats I needed to wear. I did it successfully at the end of the day. The main goal is to win a championship, and I was a big part of that.
Added Kuzma: “It’s all love. It’s always all love.”
Judging by Kuzma’s reception from Lakers fans both in-person and online recently, it appears to be pretty much all love back towards him as well.