For the past eight months, there has been simmering speculation that things were not entirely well with Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma and the team’s star player, LeBron James. That has been defused more than once but the fact that Kuzma was being offered as a trade candidate around the league this winter was taken as a sign that, deep down, problems remain.
Kuzma is still a Laker, but that could change whenever the league hits its offseason. Kuzma is expected to be on the trade block again.
Kuzma was asked about James, though, in an appearance on ESPN’s First Take on Wednesday. He spoke glowingly about James’ involvement with the team even as the league is temporarily shut down because of the spread of COVID-19 in this country.
“He’s just a good dude,” Kuzma said. “Like, you see everything that he does and it is not really fake. He cares about his teammates, he’s always hitting the group chat with things. Even now, even when we are not playing, he’s a real person. You can talk to him any time about situations.”
Kuzma Shocked Many by Turning Down Klutch Sports
The tension between Kuzma and James stems from what was expected to be Kuzma’s signing with Klutch Sports, the agency that is run by Rich Paul, who represents James. Over the years, James has taken a special interest in pulling other players into Klutch Sports and giving them preferential treatment.
Anthony Davis, for example, signed with Klutch Sports as a precursor to his forcing his way out of New Orleans so that he could join James in Los Angeles. Another Laker, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, is a Klutch Sports client.
Kuzma left his original agent, Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports, last summer. The expectation, widely reported, was that Kuzma would sign with Paul. Instead, he shocked many and signed with Aaron Mintz of sports powerhouse CAA.
Mintz had represented two former Lakers, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell, neither of whom had a good relationship with the franchise.
Former Laker guard and coach Brian Shaw, speculating this winter, told The Bounce, “I know Rich Paul was trying to sign Kyle Kuzma when he left his agent last year, he didn’t sign for Rich Paul. So, when you don’t sign with Rich Paul, and your trainer comes out and says Kawhi was giving it to LeBron, you’re gonna be outta there.”
Kuzma Remains a Laker–For Now
Ultimately, the Lakers held onto Kuzma ahead of the trade deadline. He’s struggled with injuries and in his role as a bench player, averaging 2.5 points, 43.2 percent shooting and 29.7 percent 3-point shooting in 24.6 minutes—all career-lows.
Still, Kuzma said that as much as James has been helpful to the team, he’s also helpful to Kuzma as an individual.
“Especially for me, being a young player and kind of idolized him when I’m growing up as one of my favorite players,” Kuzma said. “Being able to play with him and really see what he does on a daily basis and really just pick things from him. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. That’s how I kinda look at it, outside of him being just my friend and one of the greatest basketball players.”