When Kyle Kuzma was traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Washington Wizards in August 2021, some fans of the Purple and Gold were hard on the 27-year-old, and the narratives surrounding his exit from the franchise put him in a "dark place."
"How people perceived me ... it kind of hurt me a little bit," Kuzma told reporters Friday.
Kuzma's comments come after John Wall, a former Wizard, detailed his mental health struggles in a Players' Tribune essay titled, "I'm Still Here." Other NBA players, including DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love, have also been vocal about their mental health.
The Brooklyn Nets selected Kuzma 27th overall in the 2017 NBA draft. They traded him and Brook Lopez to the Lakers on June 22, 2017, in exchange for D'Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov.
Kuzma spent the first four years of his career in L.A. and played an important role off the bench for the Lakers during their run to the NBA Finals in 2020. In 61 regular-season games, he averaged 12.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 43.6 percent from the floor and 31.6 percent from deep.
In 21 playoff games, he averaged 10 points and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 43 percent from the floor and 31.3 percent from deep as the Lakers went on to win the title.
His best season with the Purple and Gold came in 2018-19, when he averaged 18.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 70 games, including 68 starts, while shooting 45.6 percent from the floor and 30.3 percent from deep.
From 2017-19, Kuzma saw much more time in the starting lineup as Anthony Davis didn't join the franchise and take over his position until 2019-20.
Now in Washington, Kuzma has been a key piece in the starting rotation and has revived his career. In 66 games last season, all starts, he averaged 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and 34.1 percent from deep.
In March, he alluded to his time in Washington being better than his time in Los Angeles, via The Athletic's Josh Robbins:
"It's been a great change of pace for me, a change of scenery. I did as much as I (could) to maximize [myself] when I was with my former team, with changing my role every single year for the betterment of the team and trying to fit in with great players. But here, it’s been a lot different, because I don't necessarily have to do that. My role has changed here. If you think about the first 25 games, I was in a different type of role than I am now: more scoring and just doing more things with the ball. It's just great to be in a situation where I can just be myself and do what I do, and not dummy myself down.
"It's great, because I'm not looking over my shoulder. Every time I'm making a mistake, I'm not looking at my head coach. I can focus on the game. Obviously, I don't want to make mistakes. But that's a part of it when you're growing. I'm 26, but I'm really growing."
Entering his second year with the Wizards, Kuzma has the opportunity to continue forging his own path out of the shadow of Davis and LeBron James. He may even see one of his best seasons yet alongside Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis.