Does Kyle Kuzma’s High-Visibility During Offseason Suggest Anything About His Future With Lakers?
Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, Kyle Kuzma was an obscure NBA prospect who was raised in the rough neighborhoods of Flynt, Mich., and was not certain of being drafted after playing three years in almost complete anonymity at the University of Utah.

Suffice to say, today, everything in Kuzma’s life has changed beyond what even he could be predicted. The latest high-visibility opportunity for Kuzma was him joining Harrison Barnes of the Dallas Mavericks and Hall-of-Famer David Robinson on an NBA goodwill trip to China.

There, Kuzma celebrated the 2018 NBA Finals with Chinese fans and supported the continued growth of basketball in that country by leading a basketball skills camp.

It does not hurt that Kuzma was recently awarded First-Team All-Rookie honors for the 2017-18 NBA season. It also helps that, in contrast to the other young players on the Lakers, who are stoic most of the time, Kuzma is outgoing, engaging, funny and relatable.

Even before the announcement of his All-Rookie honors, Kuzma was seemingly everywhere since a fifth consecutive Lakers’ season ended without a trip to the playoffs. He was so busy that it was as though he was on a whirlwind publicity tour. 

Kuzma appeared on venerable shows such as “Inside the NBA,” “The Jump” on ESPN, “First Take,” “Undisputed” and “In the Zone.” By all appearances, Kuzma was one of the most sought-after guests on nearly every major show covering the NBA.  

It is unlikely that any other NBA player who is not in the playoffs has come close to this much national attention since the regular season ended. The trip to China not only makes Kuzma a face of the Lakers, he became a face of the NBA.

Kuzma has also been visible at the Lakers’ training facility over the past several weeks, where he’s completed two-a-day workouts. In contrast, other Lakers players have kept a low profile since the season ended. 

Brandon Ingram has been working out in North Carolina and said little or nothing publicly. Lonzo Ball worked in the weight room but until recently was not able to go through on-court activities. Josh Hart has been a regular at the Lakers facility but also said little. Julius Randle only recently started talking about his impending free agency. 

In sum, it is Kuzma – not the higher profile players on the team like Ingram and Ball – who has emerged this offseason as the face of the franchise.

Although it was reported that no one on the Lakers’ roster is untouchable this summer, after the intense spotlight on Kuzma and the highly visible activities in which he has engaged in, it seems inconceivable that the Lakers would be willing to ship him off to become a popular player on another team.

If the speculation is to be believed, stars like DeMar DeRozan, Andrew Wiggins, Bradley Beal, John Wall, CJ McCollum and Kawhi Leonard might be available in a trade this summer. If one of their teams is interested in a potential trade with the Lakers, could it be that they will have to settle for a package that does not include Kuzma?

Does Kuzma’s rapid rise in stature mean anything for Randle’s future with the team? Randle, a restricted free agent, is likely to receive a sizable contract offer from teams such as the Dallas Mavericks and the Atlanta Hawks. The Lakers can match any offer, but will they, especially if the bidding goes beyond $15 million annually for four years?

Kuzma and Randle are both forwards, athough they have separate skill sets and play the position very differently. Randle has an old-fashioned inside power game, while Kuzma is a stretch-four who can also get to the rim and finish. It may come down to which the front office values more.

Who is signed to play center could also make an impact, since Kuzma fits better with a traditional big man who protects the rim, Meanwhile, Randle is better paired with a center who plays outside the paint and stretches the floor.

The Lakers reportedly want to keep Randle, but if they don’t want to match a contract offer he’s presumed to recive, it is easier to say no when Kuzma can slide into the role of starting power forward.

Despite almost daily pronouncements from the pundits who follow the Lakers’ every move, no one knows for sure what goes on behind the scenes and inside the inner circles of the organization.

By all objective evidence, however, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka value Kuzma a great deal more than fans may realize, and they see a very bright future for him.

While anything is possible, if one were playing the odds, it is likely that the Lakers do not intend to trade Kuzma this summer, and see him playing a prominent role moving forward.

Kuzma has shown this offseason that he can talk the talk, but at some point he will have to stop speaking and resume playing basketball. In the end, how he plays – not how he talks – will determine the kind of career he will have.

Jordan Clarkson is a cautionary tale. He, too, was a First Team All-Rookie selection, but three years later was traded. Kuzma should take nothing for granted because success can be fleeting.

Some players who enter the NBA at 22 years old improve very little over time, while others continue to get better and better.

Things are set up beautifully for Kuzma to succeed, but now it is up to him to take advantage of the situation which will only come through focus, dedication and hard work. How he plays, not how he talks, will determine Kuzma’s future with the Lakers and with the NBA.

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