Kyle Kuzma was once the great hope of the Los Angeles Lakers, far exceeding expectations as the 27th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and becoming a reliable scoring option almost immediately. Then LeBron James came to town, the team traded all of Kuzma's young counterparts for Anthony Davis, and suddenly Kuzma is a forgotten man.
Maybe not forgotten. He played his role well during the Lakers' 2020 championship run as a 3-and-D wing who didn't get in the way on offense and handled whatever assignment was thrown at him defensively. But going from the second scoring option (albeit on a bad team) to the fourth or fifth guy is a tough transition, especially with the expectations that come along when LeBron is leading the squad. Kuzma did not sound particularly happy about that in a recent interview with Bleacher Report, saying it's hard to be consistent when his role is inconsistent and expressing his belief that he can still be a 25 point-per-game scorer in the league.
"My biggest thing is I just want to play within a consistent role," Kuzma said. "If I have that ability, I'll be able to showcase what I can really do. There were parts of this year—and even anywhere else in my career—when I'm in a consistent space, I'm out there handling the ball, making teammates better, scoring, shooting, defending, rebounding. I think if I'm in that space, I'll be good."
Kuzma's numbers were stronger across the board when he started in his natural 4 position, and he still sees himself as a player capable of averaging 25 points per game and reaching All-Star heights.
"I definitely can. I definitely believe that, too. I don't really care what nobody thinks or says. I know myself, and I know my ability. It's hard to be consistent in an inconsistent role. I'm excited for a more consistent space next year," Kuzma said.
On a related note, the Lakers disappointed this season while attempting to mount a championship defense. Kuzma is probably their only attractive trade piece, barring sign-and-trade action from Dennis Schroder or Andre Drummond. Kuzma is cheap, still on the younger side, and has showcased his ability to play at an average or better level in multiple roles. If Los Angeles does decide to dangle Kuzma in trade talks, where could he go?
Kyle Kuzma Trade
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder can't use all their draft picks and should be on the lookout for players like Kuzma who have talent but aren't fits in their current situations. This qualifies. OKC has three first-rounders this year and could send out either their No. 16 or No. 18 selections with salary filler to the Lakers for Kuzma. That would give the Lakers two first-rounders this year to offer for help somewhere else or additional ammo to swing for the fences. L.A. wouldn't do this unless it already had another deal in place involving the assets it would get back for OKC, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility.
This will require a lot of cooperation from both sides, but hear me out for a quick second: Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell for Buddy Hield. The Kings should not and probably do not want to trade Hield. He's a flamethrower from beyond the arc and his mere presence on the floor opens everything up offensively. But Hield has clashed with Luke Walton more than a few times over the last two seasons and a change of scenery may be best for both sides. In return for the sharpshooter, the Kings would get two pieces that help round out their league-worst defense and slightly more complementary pieces to the future backcourt of DeAaron Fox/Tyrese Haliburton while acquiring frontcourt depth.
The biggest holdup other than the Kings' desire to hang onto Hield -- which may be too much to overcome -- is Harrell's player option for 2021. Should he opt into the second year of his deal, the trade can be executed. If he doesn't, the Lakers don't have another option. If everything lines up, Hield would be a perfect fit into the offense next to LeBron and AD even if his defense is suspect. The Lakers do this without blinking. The Kings don't, but they still might after deliberation.
It's frankly tough to find a lot of trade targets that make around the same amount as Kuzma and have value. Such is the life of outplaying the rookie contract. But if the Lakers want to swing big, Eric Gordon could be on the shortlist of realistic targets. Pairing Kuzma with KCP and a throw-in like Alonzo McKinnie gives L.A. the money to match Gordon's $18 million salary in 2021.
Why would the Lakers do this? Well, they need shooting. Gordon is a veteran player who knows how to play winning basketball. He can definitely shoot the rock. Perimeter defensive deficiencies matter less when Davis is protecting the paint and Gordon makes up for any lack of impact in that area with his scoring prowess. Houston gets rid of a guy who definitely won't be there past next season and adds another potential core piece in Kuzma and a solid rotational piece in KCP. The Lakers probably don't want to be stuck paying Gordon through 2023, but he'll have a lot more value as an expiring deal after next year and they can dump him off fairly easily if it doesn't work out this season.
San Antonio Spurs
Recent rumors suggest the Lakers are looking into acquiring DeMar DeRozan. I wrote why I thought that would be a good idea earlier this week, and I still feel that way. To get him, DeRozan would first need to agree to a sign-and-trade, seeing as the Lakers cannot sign him outright in free agency unless he takes the veteran minimum (unlikely). From there, L.A. would have to include Kuzma, the No. 22 overall pick in this year's draft, KCP, and whoever else is needed to match DeRozan's new salary.
If they can do all that, Kuzma is worth giving up for DeRozan. Honestly, it's felt like he'd be a future Spur for a while. His personality is a little bit bigger than the type the Spurs like to bring in, but he does a lot of things well but nothing very well. San Antonio could give him the space to try and work for that 25 points per game mark he wants in a well-designed offense while Kuzma continues to improve defensively. It makes all the sense in the world for the Lakers to do this.