The Lakers are off to a scorching 28-7 start, good for the second best record in the NBA, but while they tear up the regular season, L.A.’s flagship franchise still has some questions to answer. The expectation is that the Lakers will look to bolster their roster at some point over the next month, whether it be via trade or on the buyout/free agency market.
Andre Iguodala has been their main target since he was dealt from Golden State to Memphis, but the Grizzlies continue to show no indication they will buy him out, which means a trade would have to be the way to Iggy’s services. Darren Collison reportedly has interest in joining the Lakers (or Clippers) as a free agent signing as he reconsiders retirement, and could be a cheap upgrade in the backcourt that wouldn’t cost any additional players or assets.
On their own roster, they have to decide what to do with Kyle Kuzma, their lone young piece on a team that is now full of veterans. He has, unsurprisingly, struggled in adjusting to his new role as sixth man next to the LeBron-Anthony Davis pairing, and calls are coming the Lakers way to see how interested they are in moving him. While Shams Charania reports the Lakers “value” Kuzma and aren’t actively looking to trade him, Shams’ colleague Sam Amick of The Athletic offered a follow-up report on Sunday indicating they are now being more open to listening to offers on their third-year forward.
What’s more, sources now say the Lakers have shown a recent willingness to listen to pitches for Kuzma.
And … we’re off — sort of. From the Lakers’ perspective, this open-phone-lines approach is merely a case of Pelinka doing due diligence as opposed to having substantive discussions. If only because nothing of real interest has come their way — yet.
It’s what the Lakers should be doing, because their window is right now and if Kuzma can bring back a player more likely to help this LeBron-AD led team win a title then it’s worth moving a player with potential who is still figuring it out. The hope that Kuzma would be an instant offense type sparkplug off the bench has not come to fruition. He’s struggled with his efficiency, hitting just 42.5 percent of his field goal attempts and 35.4 percent of his threes — which, the latter is an improvement on his career average — and has struggled to sustain an impact on games beyond sudden bursts of production before once again falling dormant.
As Amick notes, Kuzma is extension eligible this summer and, at the latest, the Lakers will have to decide what value he has to them by 2021 when he hits restricted free agency. There are plenty around the league that believe in his abilities and potential, and if that’s the case and a quality veteran can be had by the Lakers, it’s probably worth moving Kuzma.
The tricky part is making the money work, and that more than anything might be why Kuzma stays the remainder of the season, under the guise of the Lakers “valuing him” a lot. Given his light salary — just shy of $2 million — they would have to pair him with another veteran in most any move for a veteran. They do have a few expendable players making around $4 million that could be packaged together, but there’s not really a path to matching for a salary as big as Iguodala’s. As such, it’s hard to pinpoint a veteran worth enough to the Lakers, making so little that Kuzma plus Avery Bradley/DeMarcus Cousins is enough to match salary.
So, barring them getting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to sign off on being traded, there isn’t a clear path to the Lakers moving Kuzma for a veteran at the deadline. Still, all it takes is one right offer coming across Pelinka’s desk to make it happen, but for financial reasons as much as basketball ones, it seems more likely than not Kuzma remains a Laker through this season.