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Trade Candidate Series: Kyle Kuzma back to Los Angeles?

Would bringing Kyle Kuzma in boost the Clippers’ title odds?

2022 NBA Summer League - Houston Rockets v Orlando Magic Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Welcome to the fourth installment of the “Trade Candidate Series,” where we look at several of the players around the league that are extension-eligible with their current squads as a way to see who could be of interest to the LA Clippers in a potential trade scenario.

It started off with Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors before moving up north to take a gander at Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors. In the last edition, we focused on Harrison Barnes, a forward for the Sacramento Kings.

Today, we’re going to look at yet another forward. But it’s someone who already has ties to the greater Los Angeles area.

Kyle Kuzma was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2017 NBA Draft. After two productive years early on, Kuzma slotted into a valuable bench role during the Lakers’ title run in 2020. After another year off the bench the following season, Kuzma was eventually traded to the Washington Wizards this past offseason.

During his first year in the nation’s capital, Kuzma averaged 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists across 66 games, all starts. The rebounds and assists were career marks for Kuzma.

At 6-foot-9, Kuzma is someone who can play both small forward and power forward in the league, as evidenced by his final two seasons with the Lakers.

In 2019-20, Kuzma spent 88% of his minutes at power forward while the other 12% were at small forward, according to Cleaning The Glass. In 2020-21, 52% of Kuzma’s minutes were at small forward and 48% were at small forward.

Last season, Kuzma saw a noticeable shift in where his minutes were spent. In the end, 91% of his minutes this past season were at power forward. The other 9%, however, were at center. In essence, the versatile forward could play three positions if needed.

NBA: MAR 09 Wizards at Clippers
Ivica Zubac and Kyle Kuzma were teammates with the Lakers. Could they be teammates in Los Angeles yet again .. but with the Clippers?
Photo by John McCoy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On top of that, Kuzma knocked home 36% of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts this past season. It was 37.5% the season before and 36.5% in 2019-20. None of those numbers are eye-popping, but it’s not an awful mark that makes him unusable to a team like the Clippers.

The reality of the situation is that Kuzma is eligible for an extension from the Wizards that could max out at either four-years, $70 million or three-years, $50.5 million, according to HoopsHype’s Yossi Golzan. Considering this was probably the best full season of Kuzma’s career, it’s not crazy to think he could bet on himself and thus hit free agency next offseason.

Kuzma, 27, has a player option for the 2023-24 season, but it’s only $13 million. Odds are that he’d receive more on the open market or in an extension from either the Wizards or a team who acquires him via trade.

The Wizards are in an interesting spot, though. They just handed out a five-year, $251 million deal to Bradley Beal, with a player option in the fifth year and a full no-trade clause, as well as a 15% trade kicker. It’s the full enchilada of deals.

On top of that, Washington is on the books for $33.8 million owed to Kristaps Porzingis this upcoming season, as well as his $36 million player option for 2023-24. Depending on his injury status and play on the court, it’s hard to say whether Porzingis will pick up that option or not.

Is Kuzma someone that the Wizards want to pay long-term when Porzingis could potentially be inked to a deal and they still have to figure out how to handle the impending restricted free agency of forward Rui Hachimura next offseason?

It’d be a lot of money tied up into a squad that, at best, might fight for one of the two lower-tier play-in spots. Owner Ted Leonsis could be comfortable with that notion, but the alternative for the Wizards, should they go looking for a Kuzma deal, might lead them to the Clippers since L.A. could possess a potential way to help them.

Washington Wizards v LA Clippers
Kyle Kuzma has called Arena home once already. What about a second time?
Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

A hypothetical trade of Marcus Morris Sr. and Luke Kennard, both who are players under contract through at least 2023-24, for Kyle Kuzma and Will Barton, players who can be free agents after the 2022-23 season, might be something both teams explore. However, there are cap ramifications in a deal such as that one.

For instance, because the Wizards used their non-taxpayer mid-level exception — guard Delon Wright was who they signed — they’re subject to hard cap rules. A trade for Morris and Kennard would put the Wizards over the hard cap, something they cannot cross.

Even a Morris-for-Kuzma swap straight-up would put the Wizards over the hard cap by a mere $22,000, if you can believe it. Would the Wizards be interested in a Kennard-for-Kuzma deal?

That hypothetical deal would work under the rules, but it remains to be seen whether either side would find it valuable. After all, the Clippers would be trading their best shooter for someone who gets thrust into the already crazy glut of forwards. And the Wizards would lose a bit of forward depth without getting one back.

Los Angeles Clippers v Washington Wizards
Kyle Kuzma is just 3-11 against the Clippers in his career.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Based on the situation presented by this scenario, it’s hard to see the Clippers and Wizards finding themselves as worthwhile trade partners in a deal that would send Kuzma back to Los Angeles. While he would fit what the Clippers are looking for, it’s just tough from a cap standpoint.

Considering cap situations and such, perhaps Porzingis would be the easier player for the Clippers to set their sights on as far as the Wizards are concerned since a package of Morris and Kennard gets the Clippers there, at least as far as the money goes. The other pieces would need to be figured out, of course.

But any chance of a Kuzma deal for the Clippers feels low, mainly due to the Wizards being hard capped. Still, it’s a situation that does warrant some monitoring over the next several months since he’s the type of player who could help the team and does have recent experience making the necessary sacrifices in order to fill a role to aid a team in winning a title.

As for now, a return to Los Angeles doesn’t look to be in the cards for Kuzma. Not with the gymnastics it would require.

You can find Justin Russo’s daily content on the LA Clippers by subscribing to his Patreon feed, and you can also follow him on Twitter at @FlyByKnite.