Los Angeles Lakers fans will always look back at the 2020-21 season as a wasted opportunity to add another title to their trophy cabinet.
Before their title defense began, the Lakers added Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol to the already strong — although undersized — roster. After the 2020-21 tip-off, their defense picked up where it left off in the Orlando bubble, ranking No. 1 in the league.
But the Purple and Gold couldn’t stay healthy during the season, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis missing a combined 63 games. Davis suffered an MCL injury in the middle of the season, and James dealt with a high ankle sprain toward the end of the campaign, dealing L.A. two heavy blows in its pursuit of a back-to-back championship.
The Lakers eventually crashed out of the playoffs in the first round, losing the series with the Phoenix Suns in six games. Looking back, Kyle Kuzma — who was part of the 2020-21 team — thinks L.A. would have defended the title had they been healthy:
We would of repeat if we were healthy
— kuz (@kylekuzma) November 27, 2022
Although James and Davis returned for the first-round matchup with Phoenix, they evidently still grappled with their injuries. The latter would then engage in trash talk with Suns star Devin Booker, saying the Purple and Gold would have beaten their rivals if he had gotten injured.
The loss would prove to be a significant one as the Lakers made heavy changes to their roster the following summer, trading Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook, among other moves.
They also lost Alex Caruso in free agency, who signed with the Chicago Bulls.
Kuzma speaks to challenges of being Lakers role players
Kuzma has been a starter for the Wizards since his trade and has flourished in the new role with the forward averaging 20.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists this season.
In L.A., he eventually turned into a valuable role player, even if the expectations for the Utah alum were higher following his breakout season. But he also had a very difficult job to do being a part of the supporting cast behind James on a championship contender.
Kuzma recently discussed the challenges that came with his role-player job in L.A. “You have to be strong-minded,” he said.
“When you’re a role player, you have to be ready for that moment and sometimes its tough. There’s a lot of outside noise, there’s a lot of white noise. And playing in those type of markets, it definitely touches your mental toughness and challenges it too.”
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