FOX Sports NBA reporter
The irony doesn’t escape Kyle Kuzma.
After spending pretty much his entire four-year career with the Lakers on the trading bloc, LA has reportedly asked if he could be hired by the Washington Wizards, as Bleacher Report reported first.
“I think it just shows you that the grass isn’t always greener,” Kuzma told FOX Sports. “That’s definitely a good thing because at the end of the day it means I’ve played well and I have value in this league that a team wants to trade for me. It’s a blessing.”
Kuzma, who averaged career bests in points (21.4), field goal percentage (46.2%), assists (3.6) and minutes (35) for the Wizards this season, looks back on his time with the Lakers from 2017 to 2021 as back mixed bag.
After the Lakers traded for him in 2017 — Kuzma was drafted by Brooklyn with the 27th pick in the 2017 draft — he won a championship in 2020 alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But he was constantly under criticism as to whether he would live up to expectations of becoming the team’s third goalscorer.
Kuzma became a key role player for the Lakers, but playing behind two superstars didn’t develop into the type of player he was meant to be – or wanted to be.
“It’s definitely a double-edged sword, a double-edged sword,” Kuzma said. “I think getting drafted, being a Laker, having that platform were some of the best things that have ever happened to me, you know. Knowing who you are for millions and millions of people worldwide is a blessing. It’s part of being a Laker, part of learning from LeBron, part of winning a championship – it’s all been great.
“But at the same time, I always look back and wish I would have weighed a little more just with my role and how much I sacrificed. It’s cool to make sacrifices. That’s the only way to win championships, everyone has to sacrifice But just getting to the fairer end of the stick makes me feel like I never really made it [that]. But everything happens for a reason. Now I’m here [in Washington]and I was able to expand my game and thrive.”
When asked what he meant by not getting the fair end of the stick, Kuzma hinted that he feels somewhat stifled at having to constantly adapt to the needs of the team each night rather than finding a rhythm and its being able to play game.
“In the position I was in, it was tough being the little brother on the team,” Kuzma said. “You might get 10 shots in one night. The next night you might just need a rebound. The next night you might get 15 minutes. The next night you might get 29 [minutes]. You never know. That is [not getting] the beautiful end of the stick.”
“…when I was in the moment and I was young, [I was] frustrated a lot of nights because, man, I really want this. i really want this Anyone who knows me knows I’m really competitive. I really love basketball. What bothered me a lot of nights was that I never got a chance to do what I’m doing now, play myself.”
In his final season with the Lakers of 2020-21, Kuzma averaged 12.9 points on 44.3% shots, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 28.7 minutes and started in 32 of 68 games. He was the sixth-top scorer for the Lakers that season behind James, Davis, Dennis Schroder, Andre Drummond and Talen Horton-Tucker.
After being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers decided to strike a blockbuster trade for Russell Westbrook in July 2021, sending Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell and a draft pick to the Wizards in exchange for the nine- Time All Star Point Guard.
Shortly after Kuzma was traded, he wrote an article in the players’ gallery detailed what it meant to him to be a Laker. His dream came true to go out to dinner with Kobe Bryant. He marveled at how he was able to learn from James, Davis and Rajon Rondo. And he was deeply honored to be part of one of the most legendary franchises in sports, winning its 17th title.
“Once a Laker, always a Laker,” he wrote.
But even though Kuzma now plays for a Wizards team that has lost eight straight games and ranks 12th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 11-18, Kuzma said a team change is necessary for his personal growth. Now he’s one of the team’s key options alongside Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis.
“I needed this,” Kuzma said. “Moving here was so pivotal in my life, just being more mature. I love basketball, but I love it even more now. I love my craft, I love going to the gym every day. Being in the gym, being in that kind of situation – seeing how good I can get made me really obsess about getting better and getting better.
Kuzma said his game has grown in almost every area over the past two seasons. He’s a more complete player now, meaning he’s a better goalscorer, defender, rebounder, passer, and leader.
Though playing for the Wizards has opened up Kuzma’s game, he plans to decline his player option for the 2023-24 season to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and potentially increase his earning potential, as first reported by the athlete.
In exchange, the wizards could explore the trade market after Kuzma to make sure they don’t lose it for nothing. That being said, Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. is hoping Kuzma stays with the team.
“I’d love to have him,” Unseld said. “A guy with his skills and abilities, he does a lot for us on both sides.”
The Lakers, meanwhile, could use help with spot-up shooting and defense, areas where Kuzma excels. They are currently 12th in the Western Conference with a record of 11-16.
Kuzma said it’s hard to see the Lakers struggling like this despite having two of the league’s best players on their roster. Last season, they had championship expectations but didn’t even make the playoffs.
“It’s hard to watch,” said Kuzma. “These are your brothers. These are my brothers for life. I won a championship with them. So of course I always want to see that they do well. Being healthy, that was an issue for them, [as well as] Roster makeup for her, all that other stuff. I want to see that they are okay. These are my boys.”
In fact, Kuzma said he’s still close with James and Davis.
“I talk to them all the time,” he said, adding that they regularly exchange messages on Instagram and he often seeks their advice.
Ever since Kuzma was traded from the Lakers, he has had no regrets. But now it seems like that door is being kicked open, leaving him room to explore “what ifs”.
When asked if he thinks the Lakers could have been in contention for another title last season if the Westbrook deal had never materialized, Kuzma shrugged.
“I can’t say,” he said. “It’s very hard. Depends on whether people are healthy or not. … We would certainly still have been a solid team. Since I grew into who I am and if they had allowed me to grow the way you never know what could have happened.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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