‘Tough being little bro’: Amid trade rumors, Kuzma reflects on Lakers tenure

The irony is not lost on Kyle Kuzma.

After being on the trade block for nearly his entire four-season run with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Lakers have now inquired about acquiring him from the Washington Wizards as Bleacher Report first informed

“I think it just goes to show that the grass isn’t always greener,” Kuzma told FOX Sports. “It’s definitely a good thing because at the end of the day, it means I’ve played well, and I have value in this league, that a team wants to trade for me. It’s a blessing.”

Kuzma, who is averaging career highs in points (21.4), field goal percentage (46.2), assists (3.6) and minutes (35) this season for the Wizards, recalls the his time with the Lakers from 2017-2021 as a mixed bag.

After the Lakers traded for him in 2017, Kuzma was drafted by Brooklyn with the 27th pick in the 2017 draft, won a championship in 2020 along with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But he was constantly under fire as to whether he lived up to the expectations of becoming the team’s third leading scorer.

Kuzma became an important player for the Lakers, but playing behind two superstars, he didn’t become the type of player they projected — or wanted — to become.

“It’s a double-edged sword, a double-edged sword, for sure,” Kuzma said. “I think it was some of the best things that ever happened to me, you know, being drafted, being a Laker, having that platform. To have millions and millions of people around the world know who you are, that’s a blessing. That it’s part of being a Laker. Learning from LeBron, winning a championship, it’s all been great.

“But at the same time, I always look back and I wish I had gotten a little bit on the fairer end of the stick, just with my role and how much I sacrificed. It’s great to sacrifice. It’s the only way to win championships. , everybody has to sacrifice. But just getting the fairest end of the stick, I feel like I’ve never made it. [that]. But everything happens for a reason. i’m here now [in Washington]and I’ve been able to expand my game and flourish.”

When asked what he meant by not getting the right end of the stick, Kuzma hinted that he felt stifled to some degree by constantly having to adapt to the team’s needs on a given night instead of being able to find a rhythm and play your game.

“In the position I was in, it was hard to be that little brother on the team,” Kuzma said. “One night, you might get 10 shots. The next night, they might just need you to rebound. The next night, you might get 15 minutes. The next night, you might get 29. [minutes]. Who knows. This is [not getting] the right end of the stick.”

“… When I was at the time and was young, [I was] frustrated many nights because man i really want this. I really want this. Everyone who knows me knows that I am very competitive. I love basketball very much. A lot of nights I was upset that he never got the chance to do what I’m doing now, play with me.”

In his final season with the Lakers in 2020-21, Kuzma averaged 12.9 points on 44.3% shooting, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 28.7 minutes, starting in 32 of the 68 parties. That season, he was the Lakers’ sixth leading scorer behind James, Davis, Dennis Schroder, Andre Drummond and Talen Horton-Tucker.

After the Lakers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, they decided to make a blockbuster trade for Russell Westbrook in August 2021, sending Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell and a draft pick to the Wizards in exchange for the nine- All-Star base time.

Shortly after Kuzma was traded, he wrote an article in the Players stand detailing what being a Laker meant to him. His dream of going out to dinner with Kobe Bryant came true. He marveled at how he was able to learn from James, Davis and Rajon Rondo. And he was deeply honored to be part of one of the most legendary franchises in sports winning its 17th title.

“Once a Laker, always a Laker,” he wrote.

But even though Kuzma now plays for a Wizards team that has lost eight straight games and is 12th in the Eastern Conference with an 11-18 record, Kuzma said a change of team was necessary for his personal growth. Now, he’s one of the team’s top options, alongside Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis.

“I needed this,” Kuzma said. “This move here has been a big thing in my life, just being more mature. I love basketball, but now I love it even more. I love my job, I love going to the gym every day. Being in the gym, being in those types of situations, seeing how good I can get has made me really obsessive about trying to get better and better.”

Kuzma said his game has grown in almost every area over the past two seasons. He is now a more complete player, meaning a better scorer, defender, rebounder, passer and leader.

While playing for the Wizards has opened up Kuzma’s game, he plans to decline his player option for the 2023-24 season to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and potentially increase his earning potential, per as first reported. The Athletic.

In turn, the Wizards could scout the trade market for Kuzma to make sure they don’t lose him for nothing in return. That said, Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. expects Kuzma to stick with the team.

“I would love to have him,” Unseld said. “A guy with his skills and abilities, he does a lot for us on both ends.”

The Lakers, meanwhile, could use help with spot-up shooting and defense, areas in which Kuzma excels. They currently sit in 12th place in the Western Conference with a record of 11-16.

Kuzma said it’s been tough to watch the Lakers struggle so much despite having two of the league’s best players on their roster. Last season, they had championship expectations but didn’t even make the playoffs.

“It’s hard to watch,” Kuzma said. “These are your brothers. These are my brothers for life. I won a championship with them. So naturally, I always want to see them do well. Staying healthy, that’s been a problem for them. [as well as] list makeup for them, all these other things. I want to see them do well. These are my boys.”

In fact, Kuzma said he’s still close to James and Davis.

“I talk to them all the time,” she said, adding that they exchange messages regularly on Instagram and she often asks them for advice.

Since Kuzma was traded from the Lakers, he hasn’t looked back. But now that door seems to be opening, leaving room for him to explore the “what ifs.”

Asked if he thinks the Lakers could have competed for another title last season if the Westbrook deal had never been made, Kuzma shrugged.

“I can’t say that,” he said. “That’s really hard. It depends on whether people are healthy or not. . . . We would have been a solid team regardless, for sure. As I’ve grown into who I am, and if I’d been allowed to grow that. way, you never know what could have happened.”

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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