The Lakers announced on Sunday they have agreed to a contract extension with Kyle Kuzma. While the terms of the deal were not released by the team, NBA news breakers tell us it’s a 3 year extension worth $40 million, with a player option on the 3rd year.
The player option would allow Kuzma to enter unrestricted free agency as a 28 year old, and was likely a key bargaining point for Kuzma’s side in order to sign this deal at what is a fair market price, but at a time before Kuz can enter restricted free agency and potentially get an offer sheet for more money that the Lakers would either need to match or see him leave for nothing.
Considering all that context, this is a good deal for both sides and something everyone can be happy about.
For Kuzma, he gets some medium term contract stability and guarantees him a nice payday over the next 3 years. As a late first round pick, Kuzma’s not made a lot of money in his NBA salary (compared to his role on the team and his overall production). This deal begins to rectify that. Also, getting this deal done now allows Kuz to only focus on his game and how he helps the team on the court, removing any potential distractions on what his next contract will be.
For the Lakers, they get a good rotation player who clearly helps them on the floor locked into a contract at a reasonable price. They also forego any potential issues in restricted free agency, an area where negotiations can often turn contentious and/or put the team in the uncomfortable position of either having to pay a player more than they might otherwise or see them walk for nothing.
The Lakers are also in the position of being an over the cap/luxury tax team, so locking in a player at a reasonable price is even more important. There are few mechanisms to replace a rotation mainstay like Kuzma when you’re in the cap situation the Lakers are in, so coming to a resolution on a contract is even more a win.
Understand, as a tax paying team, the Lakers would not have the full mid-level exception to chase a comporable talent — they’d only have the tax payer’s version that comes in at a lower amount. And, even if they did have the full MLE, as we saw this year with the Harrell contract, that comes with a hard-cap on spending which creates more hurdles when trying to build out your roster.
I’d be remiss, too, if we did not mention that Kuz on this type of contract does open up more avenues for trades and makes any future moves an easier transaction. The types of trades that can really move the needle for a contending level team will almost certainly involve one or more player who is on a mid-tiered contract like the one that Kuzma just agreed to. The need for salary ballast in such transactions is a given and players who make in the $12-16 million range come in handy. Kuz is now on one of those types of deals and if it turns out that either side is open to a different opportunity via a trade, him being on this type of contract helps facilitate that type of move.
In saying all that, the Lakers almost certainly did not sign Kuz to this type of deal to trade him away, and looking at this agreement as an asset play first and foremost would be a mistake. Kuz may never be the “3rd star” he aspired to be just 18 months ago. But that shouldn’t overshadow what he actually is now — a positionally fluid 6’9″ player who has made major strides defensively (particularly when guarding perimeter scoring threats) and who is also still a diverse scoring threat who can threaten defenses from all 3 levels of the floor.
These things that Kuz already does well have real value and should not be overlooked or downplayed. During the preseason he started a game at PF and later started another at SG. He can defend 3 positions well enough to not be played off the floor and in lineups next to Bron and/or AD this has immense value.
Offensively he is a wonderful cutter whose instincts as an off-ball worker allow him to score without a play being run for him. He’s a capable spot up shooter (especially from the corners) and is wonderful attacking closeouts where his finishing from awkward angles and on the move remain a strength. Add in his work in transition and he has more than enough scoring potential to be a positive contributor; production that often grows as his opportunities do.
Does he have work to do as an on-ball creator? Yes. Can he still get too shot happy? Of course. Can certain power wings/perimeter threats with low centers of gravity bother him defensively? Yep. But no one is calling Kuz a perfect player and no player is without flaws. This is why Kuz will make $13 million (average annual salary) and not the max or even anything approaching the high teens or $20 million a year.
But this is a league where you want as many players as you can get your hands on who can capably fill a rotation spot deep into the playoffs. Kyle Kuzma just did that last season. And, with this contract extension, the Lakers have ensured he’ll be have the opportunity to do it for seasons to come too. This, my friends, is a good thing.
Congratulations, Kuz. You’ve earned it.