Here’s where things have stood for a couple of days now:
The Lakers have four players in their young core: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. The New Orleans Pelicans want three of them and the No. 4 pick as part of an Anthony Davis trade. The Lakers generally appear okay with that.
The Pelicans also insist Kuzma be one of the four. That is farther than the Lakers are willing to go.
Tania Ganguli and Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times confirmed that is where things stand.
Among the young Lakers, New Orleans covets Kuzma the most.
Kuzma’s contract is less than those of Ingram and Ball. Kuzma has two years left on his contract that are worth about $5.5 million, the second of which is a team option…
According to people familiar with the Lakers’ thinking, Kuzma has ingratiated himself with the organization both on the court and off, and management does not want to trade the forward, who is entering his third season. The Lakers might have an opportunity to keep their No. 4 pick should they agree to part with Kuzma.
It’s far more than the contract that makes Kuzma an attractive target. He averaged 18.7 points per game last season, he thrives in transition (the Pelicans run more than the Lakers), he’s decisive, and his straight-line drives for dunks helped make him a fan favorite in Los Angeles. While his three-point shooting and defense need to get better (especially the defense), he’s been impressive enough through two seasons to earn an invite to USA Basketball’s training camp/tryouts to choose the roster for the World Cup.
Understandably, the Lakers want to keep Kuzma, and they should try to flip that No. 4 pick another player the Pelicans want. The problem with that pick is the general consensus is this draft drops off after No. 3 (some would say No. 2) and is a flat draft at that point. The Pelicans clearly are not that high on Jarrett Culver or Darius Garland at that spot. The Lakers also could try to flip Lonzo Ball to a team high on him for a player the Pelicans want more.
The Lakers still look to be the frontrunners to land Davis, something they may need to do to have any shot at luring in a major free agent this summer (and it’s fair to ask if they can land one even with him). Which means ultimately they may need to put Kuzma in the offer, maybe taking the No. 4 pick off the board, if it gets them Davis. Pairing AD with LeBron James makes the Lakers a threat in the West, as long as they do a better job this summer rounding out the roster than they did a year ago.