Lakers reportedly willing to ‘listen to pitches’ for Kyle Kuzma trade

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Looking for an advantage in a tight race with the Clippers, Bucks, and other teams that see themselves as contenders, the Lakers would love to make a roster upgrade at the trade deadline. The problem? They sent most of the players and picks teams would want back in a trade to New Orleans to land Anthony Davis, and the veteran expiring contracts on their roster have little value around the league.

The Lakers do have Kyle Kuzma.

Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka is at least listening to offers for their young star, reports Sam Amick at The Athletic.

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 would take a lot in return for Pelinka and the Lakers to give up Kuzma, but maybe not as much as some Lakers’ fans think.

Consider the Lakers situation: A win-now team in need of more playmaking (Kuzma is not a playmaker, he’s a finisher and with the Lakers a sixth man). The Lakers are nearly wholly dependent upon LeBron James to run the offense, when he sits the Laker offense is 13 points per 100 possessions worse, falling to a 101 net rating that would be worst in the league. Rajon Rondo is not the answer.

If Kuzma can bring back a quality shot creator to both pair with LeBron and Anthony Davis, and to run the show when LeBron sits, it could be a good trade.

Plus, this summer Kuzma is eligible for an extension of his rookie contract. It seems a longshot the sides reach an agreement on a number for an extension — as long as Davis is on the Lakers Kuzma is a sixth man, but he doesn’t see himself that way — which would make Kuzma a restricted free agent in 2021. That summer, a team could try to poach Kuzma for a salary the Lakers just aren’t willing to pay. How much do the Lakers want to pay to keep Kuzma on the roster? (Remember, this coming July the Lakers will max out Anthony Davis with an extension, a deal that everyone around the league expects will come together quickly. Which means the Lakers are going to have a payroll in the luxury tax for years.)

Kuzma’s box score numbers have taken a hit with Davis getting more touches at the No. 2 option. Kuzma is averaging 12.1 points and 3.5 rebounds a game, shooting just 42.5 percent overall but 35.4 percent from three (he’s shooting 55 percent on corner threes this season, a positive in his game). His play has been up and down as he has struggled to find a consistent role on this team.

Maybe another team sees a scorer as what they need and are willing to give up a good playmaker to get one. Maybe.

Most likely, Kuzma is with the Lakers come the playoffs. But it’s the smart move for Pelinka and the Lakers to listen to offers.