Kyle Kuzma has moved through an encouraging first season with the Washington Wizards. However, his NBA career remains forever tied to the Los Angeles Lakers after spending his first four campaigns with the franchise.
In Los Angeles, He experienced the highs of championship success and lows of losing and trade rumors. Kuzma has since turned a new leaf by embracing his situation with the Wizards. Before he faces the Lakers for the first time in his career, he revealed he holds no bitterness toward his former team.
Kyle Kuzma is thriving with the Wizards
Kuzma’s first four seasons with the Lakers featured many challenging circumstances.
Initially, the Utah product served as a key piece to the franchise’s young core group, showcasing much promise. However, LeBron James’ arrival shifted the dynamic, significantly altering his role.
After becoming the lone holdover from the young core group in the aftermath of the Anthony Davis trade, the scrutiny shifted to an intense spotlight. Kuzma was pushed into the team’s third-scorer role off the bench that he never truly fulfilled.
He pushed through stretches of struggles to find consistency but remained a key piece to the puzzle. Although he stumbled in the 2020 playoffs, he helped the team win their first NBA title in a decade. Although he signed a four-year, $48 million extension in December 2020, Kuzma’s long-term future remained uncertain due to his inconsistent production.
He has excelled since being shipped to the Wizards as part of the Russell Westbrook trade. He stepped firmly into a full-time starter role, averaging 17.2 points and 8.7 rebounds on a career-high 45.7% shooting and 34.1% shooting from beyond the arc.
Kuzma has posted a career-high 24 double-doubles, including 16 in his last 32 games. He has recorded a career-best 10 games with at least 10 rebounds, while his eight contests with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds are the most in a single campaign.
Since the start of February, he is one of seven players to average 20.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. The impressive stretch includes posting the first triple-double of his career. As Kuzma prepares to play his first career game against the Lakers, he holds no ill-will toward his former team.
Kyle Kuzma holds no lingering resentment toward the Lakers
With the Wizards making their first and only trip to Crypto.com Arena on Friday to face the Lakers, the attention has predictably shifted toward the two former Los Angeles players on Washington’s roster.
Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will play on the court they previously called home for several seasons. Caldwell-Pope singled out the contest as quite meaningful for the two veterans that will stir up plenty of emotions because of the 2020 NBA title run.
Meanwhile, Kuzma voiced that he holds no lingering resentment toward his former team because of the championship success he experienced in Los Angeles.
“I don’t really play the ‘what if,’” Kuzma told NBA.com‘s Mark Medina. “I’m cemented as a winner, and I’m cemented as a Lakers champion. For me, it’s not about ‘what if.’ It’s time to move on. It’s time to improve my game.”
Although Kuzma wanted to extend his tenure with the Lakers, the opportunity in Washington has given him the chance to develop further as a player. He’s playing an extended role that he didn’t previously have in Los Angeles.
The mind frame he holds toward the situation demonstrates his growth and maturity away from his subtle pettiness last summer. The road ahead won’t be a smooth process, but his experience with the Lakers set the foundation to build and improve upon as he progresses through the rest of his NBA career.
Focused on pushing the Wizards to the playoffs
As much as the scrutiny will be on Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope, the two are eyeing pushing the Wizards to the playoffs.
Washington sits 1.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the 10th seed to participate in the play-in tournament. They have dropped six out of their last 10 games, making those aspirations a more difficult path.
The Wizards are pushing ahead without star guard Bradley Beal, who is out of the rest of the season due to wrist surgery. The front office added much-needed help before the trade deadline by acquiring former All-Star Kristaps Porzingis. In his first two games, he has excelled averaging 22.0 points on 57.7% shooting from the floor and 55.6% from the three-point range.
Washington needs Porzingis and Kuzma to step up to give them any realistic chance at vying for a playoff position.