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Lakers Shouldn't Pursue Wizards' Kyle Kuzma Despite Latest NBA Trade Rumors

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2022

Kyle Kuzma
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers notched a 124-117 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, thanks to strong performances by LeBron James (35 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Anthony Davis (34, 15 and seven).

L.A. has now won six of its last 10, and while the Lakers are just 11-15, making a playoff push doesn't seem as outlandish as it did early in the season.

The Lakers' recent change of fortunes could prompt general manager Rob Pelinka to make a win-now trade ahead of February's deadline. There's a chance that a deal could involve a familiar face.

According to Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus, Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma could end up on the trade block—and the Lakers could be logical suitors.

"He wants out," an NBA source told Pincus. "He's looking for over $20 million a season and in a big market [or with a contender]."

As Pincus noted, Washington must at least consider moving Kuzma rather than risk losing him as a free agent in the offseason. Kuzma has a player option for the 2023-24 season that would pay him $13 million—substantially less than what he is reportedly seeking.

Pincus also speculated that Los Angeles could be in on Kuzma if he becomes available.

"Another team to monitor would be the Lakers, knowing Kuzma has championship experience playing alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis," Pincus wrote. "Giving up a first to both part and reunite with Kuzma would fit the Lakers' track record."

Should the Lakers be interested in reacquiring Kuzma less than two years after sending him to Washington in the Russell Westbrook trade? Probably not.

At first blush, adding Kuzma seems like a great option. He has become a star in Washington and is averaging 21.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists this season. He's also shooting a career-best 46.2 percent from the floor.

Kuzma is a capable range shooter—he's shooting 33.3 percent from beyond the arc this season—and theoretically could help provide offensive spacing around James and Davis that Los Angeles could use.

However, the Lakers wouldn't be getting this version of Kuzma. They'd be getting the same role player Kuzma was when he last played in L.A.

When James and Davis were both healthy in the 2019-20 season, Kuzma started just nine games. He averaged 25.0 minutes but just 12.8 points. As Kuzma recently noted, his play style made it difficult for him to be on the floor with James and Davis regularly.

"Here, I'm not playing behind LeBron and AD. Those guys are my position, my type of player, who I am, my style," the 6'9" forward told The Athletic's Shams Charania. "So coming here, I don't have that anymore."

Kuzma's impact would most likely be as a quality sixth man. L.A. already has that in Westbrook, who is averaging 14.4 points, 7.6 assists and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 40.5 percent from the floor.

Having both Kuzma and Westbrook on the roster wouldn't make a ton of sense, and Los Angeles isn't going to convince Washington to take back Westbrook.

The other factor to consider here is Kuzma's future. If he wants to remain a starter and is looking for $20 million-plus annually, it won't be with L.A. Hypothetically, the Lakers would be giving up a future first-round pick for the short-term rental of a bench player.

And this is assuming a first-round pick would be enough to net Kuzma. According to Pincus, the Kuzma is "believed" to be on the Sacramento Kings' radar. Having two (or perhaps more) interested teams could drive up Washington's asking price significantly.

If the Lakers are looking to make a trade to win now, they have other options worth pursuing instead of Kuzma. According to Pincus, the Lakers are interested in acquiring DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević from the Chicago Bulls.

While L.A. would lose Westbrook in this scenario, it would add a versatile player in DeRozan and a true center in Vučević who could help take some of the physical pressure off Davis. DeRozan can play either forward or guard and could replace the struggling Patrick Beverley in the starting lineup.

What sort of deal the Lakers pursue before the deadline will hinge heavily on how they fare over the next few weeks. However things unfold, Kuzma isn't the right trade target for L.A.

If the Lakers continue trending upward and hope to win now, Kuzma won't make them a title contender. If they're looking to next season, Kuzma is highly unlikely to be a long-term building block.

The idea of reuniting James, Davis and Kuzma is intriguing, but given the likely cost and benefits, it's not a deal Los Angeles should force.