After a season in which the Los Angeles Lakers received encouraging contributions from Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, the young core faced the challenge of playing under intense expectations that come with LeBron James being part of the team.
Although the Lakers were projected by many to end their playoff drought, it instead was extended to a sixth consecutive season. This year is the first time since James’ second season that he won’t be in the playoffs, and his eight-year NBA Finals streak was snapped.
Similar to last season, the Lakers young core has had its moments, but there have also been times where they appeared overwhelmed. Particularly when the team was involved in Anthony Davis trade rumors.
Kuzma was among the players to voice a sense of relief after the deadline passed. He also admitted to being impacted by the rampant speculation that was more public than is customary with trade talks.
Despite being eliminated from the playoffs and mired in a season-high tying five-game losing streak, the Lakers played with energy and focus against the Sacramento Kings. Kuzma erupted for 21 of the Lakers’ 39 points in the third quarter.
The win, just the Lakers’ second of the month, was a moment of satisfaction, even if only for one night. “It’s been a long, grueling season, both physically and mentally,” Kuzma said.
“It’s going to come with the territory of playing in the NBA. It’s going to happen. Everybody’s human. People don’t talk about the mental side of things a lot in life, but that’s way more important than physical exhaustion.”
Kuzma maintained he’s managed to cope with mental fatigue and largely avoid it impacting him physically. “Just try to stay with it, try to remain me, have joy for the game,” he said. “Through all the ups and downs, just try to be me.”