NBA
June 15, 2021

5 Kyle Kuzma Trades the Lakers Need to Make

After injuries and poor play sunk the Los Angeles Lakers’ chances of repeating as NBA champions, there are bound to be some roster shake-ups in La La Land. Look no further than Kyle Kuzma, who was a disappointment when the Lakers were desperately searching for someone to help carry the offensive scoring burden with LeBron James and Anthony Davis dealing with injuries.

While Kuzma will never be mistaken for a superstar — he averaged just 6.3 points per game against the Suns in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs — he’s molded himself into a solid role player willing to do the dirty work.

Kuzma is set to enter the first year of his rookie contract extension, which pays him $39 million over the next three campaigns. The contract is far from an albatross, but it’s a safe bet that the Lakeshow would not do that deal in hindsight considering Kuzma’s playoff performance.

Playoff disappointment aside, there are undoubtedly some teams that look at Kuzma as a young, athletic wing entering his prime on an affordable contract, which means the Lakers should be able to get a valuable asset in exchange for the former Utah product. 

Here are five Kyle Kuzma trades the Lakers should consider entering an offseason of change.

Trade 1: Kyle Kuzma to the Sacramento Kings 

The Trade: Kyle Kuzma & Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Buddy Hield

Poor Buddy Hield has been involved in a plethora of fake-trade scenarios, but it’s not surprising considering the Kings don’t seem to be in love with their sharpshooter. Hield’s past issues with the Kings franchise are well known, and they easily could lead to him being traded. Hield and his 40% career mark from deep would be a perfect fit for a shooting-starved Lakers. 

Shooting is more vital than ever in the NBA. The Lakers struggled to hit threes all season, ranking 25th in the league in three-pointers made per game. It didn't get much better in the first round, either, with the Lakers knocking down a paltry 29% of their deep attempts against the Suns.

Hield isn’t just a standstill shooter entirely dependent on others. He’s also a more refined ball-handler than Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, which is always something to consider as James enters his age-37 season.

Hield has a declining salary over the next three seasons that is less than Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma’s deals combined. While he’s not the defender that KCP is, Hield’s offense would be a much-needed breath of fresh air for the Lakers.

The Kings would receive two sturdy and versatile wings with championship experience which could make an eventual Harrison Barnes trade more palatable.

Trade 2: Kyle Kuzma to the Orlando Magic

The Trade: Kuzma for Terrence Ross

With the Magic finally in rebuild mode, it makes sense for Orlando to get younger and take a chance on an up-and-coming player like Kuzma. 

Ross might be even more appealing to the Lakers than Hield because he costs less than the Kings sharpshooter. Ross’ shooting percentages are average, sure, but he usually had to play the role of the primary offensive creator as a sixth man off the bench. 

Ross is a better fit as a role player who can feast off the attention that superstars naturally attract. The Lakers are a perfect place for him to hunt shots. The 30-year-old was in the 87th percentile as a spot-up shooter this season, which indicates he would probably thrive with more open looks.

He could still have his shot at creating opportunities for his teammates while James rests, and maybe if he’s surrounded by more well-rounded players it will be a win-win for both Ross and the Lakers.

The Magic meanwhile gets to take a shot on Kuzma, who has showcased he’s willing to be a glue guy who won’t take shots away from the rookies and sophomores.

Trade 3: Kyle Kuzma to the Cleveland Cavaliers

The Trade: Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope for Kevin Love, Cavs’ 2022 Unprotected 1st-Round Pick

This is admittedly a crazy trade but in the words of Bill Simmons, "Who says no?!"

From the Cavaliers' perspective, Cleveland finally gets off Love’s $60 million guaranteed over the next two seasons. Ever since he signed his massive extension, Love and the Cavs seem to be miserable in their current predicament, so splitting up will probably make both parties happy. The Cavs would also take a flier on Kuzma to see if he can fit in as a wing next to Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen.

For the Lakers, the obvious excitement would be Cleveland’s 2022 unprotected first-rounder, which could easily be in the top five when taking into account how bad the Cavs project to be. Not only could that pick blossom into a promising young player, but the Lakers could also use it as a trade chip to search for an upgrade who can help James and Davis.

The other side to this deal is that Love may very well have some juice left in the tank. He’s been largely unproductive the last two seasons, but perhaps that changes if he’s on a contending team. When healthy, Love is a ferocious rebounder who shot 39% from deep from 2017 to 2020.

Yes, his massive contract would nix any shot the Lakers have at a star over the next year, but championship teams rarely have the opportunity to have a top draft pick at their disposal. That Cavs pick could be the next Lakers star to transition their franchise into a post-James future, or it could be a vehicle for getting a young established rising star. 

This is a deal the Lakers should consider even if Love doesn’t turn back the clock, but the fact that there’s even a chance at that makes this a very intriguing trade to consider. 

Trade 4: Kyle Kuzma to the Chicago Bulls

The Trade: Kuzma for Thaddeus Young

After such an explosive potential deal, let’s introduce a much calmer one that could still benefit both sides. Thaddeus Young is a 32-year-old veteran who blossomed into an excellent-passing big man this season. Throughout his career, Young has averaged only 1.8 assists per game, but he dished 4.3 dimes per game this past season. 

The brutally bad Bulls were 10 points per 100 possessions better with Young on the court compared to when he rested, which was by far the best mark on the team among rotation players. 

Young doesn’t hog the ball and shoots an efficient 50% from the field. He’s not a perfect fit next to Davis thanks to his below-average shooting marks, but there’s no denying that good things happen when Young is on the floor. He’s a strong defender who can help lead the Lakers' bench units that seemingly always struggle with shot-creating.

In Chicago, the Bulls are sorely lacking in the wing department if Garrett Temple departs in free agency, which would leave 19-year-old Patrick Williams as the only reliable forward. That’s not ideal for a squad trying to balance winning now and in the future. At 25, Kuzma's still relatively young, but he’s also played at the highest level of the game.

Young is undoubtedly a better player right now, but he’s on an expiring contract if his option is picked up, and he probably won’t want to languish on a subpar squad.

Trade 5: Kyle Kuzma to the L.A. Clippers

The Trade: Kuzma for Luke Kennard

The odds of the two Los Angeles franchises making a deal involving two rotation players is relatively low. The last time they made a trade, the Clippers stole Ivica Zubac from their crosstown rivals. In this hypothetical deal, both players have shown flashes of quality production, but have not gained the full trust of their coaches.

In Luke Kennard’s case, he rode the bench for most of the first round until coach Tyronn Lue trusted him at the end of the Mavericks series, where his plus-shooting helped the Clippers close out the series. Kennard is one of the best shooters in the league, having drained 47% of his threes during the season, and 50% this postseason. He’s a certified sniper who could help propel the Clippers to the championship, but the rest of his game leaves a lot to be desired.

Kennard was repeatedly abused by Donovan Mitchell in Game 1 against the Jazz. There are only so many minutes a team can entrust in a guy who gets cooked on defense. On the bright side though, Kennard is not just a standstill shooter. 

He’s good at coming off pin downs, a la J.J. Redick, and he’s displayed some nascent playmaking abilities. If Kennard stays the course on offense and his defense isn’t too destructive, the Clippers probably don't make this swap. Both Kennard and Kuzma have nearly identical $13 million salaries over the next three seasons.

The Clippers were one of the best shooting teams this season, so they’re more equipped to deal with Kuzma’s shortcomings in that area. Meanwhile, we’ve already discussed how badly the Lakers could use some sweet shooting.

Considering their current cap situation and Dennis Schroder’s impending free agency, the Lakers are in a tough spot this offseason and Kuzma’s contract is the perfect size if they need to strike a deal. 

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration