The weekend’s news that the Lakers would consider trading forward Kyle Kuzma certainly rattled the NBA’s trade rumor mill, which has been kicking into gear as we now sit a month ahead of the league’s trade deadline. The Lakers have swung back from a four-game losing streak with a run of five straight wins that has the team at 29-7, once again comfortably on top of the Western Conference, 4.5 games ahead of the Nuggets and Rockets.
But league sources told Heavy.com that the notion of the Lakers pulling the trigger on a deal for Kuzma is still a long way off.
One general manager said the Lakers would ask for a high rotation player—preferably a point guard—who could bolster the chances for LeBron James and Anthony Davis to earn a spot in the Finals, as well as a first-round draft pick that projects to be in or around the lottery.
The Lakers would also consider two potential lesser first-round picks as part of a package for Kuzma.
“They had to sort of sell out their draft picks to put this team together, with Davis,” the GM said. “They want to piece some of that back together so they’re in position if they want to make other trades, this year or down the road. It’s a high price they want.”
Lakers Lacking in Trade Assets
As it stands, the Lakers owe their 2021 first-rounder to New Orleans, though the pick will transfer to the following year if it falls between picks 8-30, which is almost certainly will. The Pelicans have the right to swap picks with the Lakers in 2023 and have the right to take the Lakers’ pick in either 2024 or 2025.
Because first-round picks can’t be traded in consecutive years, the Lakers effectively can’t trade a first-rounder. And when it comes to plucking solid veterans who could help for the stretch run, being able to swap a first-rounder is paramount.
One Lakers target, for example, is the Grizzlies’ Andre Iguodala. But Memphis has been stubborn in refusing to move Iguodala without getting a first-round pick in return. A haul for Kuzma could facilitate an Iugodala trade.
Lakers Place High Value on Kyle Kuzma
Most teams around the league would have reason to be interested in Kuzma, who is 24 and averaged 18.7 points last year. He has had injury trouble, though, and struggled to find his place on a team dominated by James and Davis. Kuzma is averaging 11.8 points, shooting 42.0 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from the 3-point line.
Still, the Lakers would ask a steep price for him, an indication that the team is not all that serious about moving him. Kuzma was the product of a draft-day deal with the Nets in 2017 in which the Lakers gave up former No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell in order to get out of the disastrous Timofey Mozgov contract. The performance of Kuzma softened the blow of watching Russell developed into an All-Star.
“It is not something that front office wants to do,” the GM said. “He was a good pick for them, a guy they brought in and brought along when they had to give up Russell. The Lakers don’t have a lot of those players they draft and develop. They don’t have to pay him until (2021-22). The whole organization thinks highly of him so if he’s traded, it’s only if they’re getting a lot back.”
There could be a shot at a championship at stake, though.
As the Lakers try to improve the roster, they have little to offer by way of assets and Kuzma is the best piece the team could put on the market. Because James is 35, the Lakers need to take advantage of the championship window he provides while he is still producing at a peak level—there isn’t a whole lot of time for the Lakers to wait and see whether Kuzma can get more comfortable.
Trading him, though, might prove too extreme for a franchise that has grown to value—perhaps overvalue—Kuzma in the last three years.