The Los Angeles Lakers returned from a five-game road trip without LeBron James available for Sunday’s matchup against the Denver Nuggets, but seeing Kyle Kuzma back in the lineup after he missed time due to a left ankle sprain.
The injury cost Kuzma the entire road trip and was the third he’s suffered since the summer. “He’s not comfortable right now,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel acknowledged. “It’s impossible for anyone to be comfortable after missing a whole training camp and battled three different injuries this early into a season.
“He hasn’t played in a week or two, and now we start the process again of getting him back in the offense and getting him comfortable.”
The offseason was shaping to be a valuable learning experience for the third-year forward as he was with Team USA ahead of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. While he was under consideration to make Team USA’s final roster, an ankle injury ended Kuzma’s bid.
That was later revealed to be a stress reaction in his left foot. Kuzma was sidelined through training camp and the preseason, and didn’t make his debut until Nov. 1. As the Lakers worked to integrate their likely sixth man, Kuzma was thrown off course by an eye abrasion and the aforementioned ankle sprain.
Add to it that the Lakers as a whole underwent changes, and Kuzma has failed to meet expectations thus far. Vogel is mindful of the challenges, but hardly concerned.
“He’s a young player with a whole new cast of teammates and coaching staff, a new system. With younger guys it takes a little time sometimes,” he said. “But he’s going to be a huge factor for us this year.”
The Lakers’ faith in Kuzma predates Vogel’s arrival, as the front office was adamant in keeping him out of trade talks for Anthony Davis. L.A. instead built their package around the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and Kuzma’s fellow members of the once-ballyhooed young core: Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram.
Kuzma’s ability to take another step forward in his progression and settle in alongside Anthony Davis and James in a timely manner could be crucial for the Lakers amid some of the uncertainty surrounding their two All-Star players.