The 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers are gunning for a championship. Anything less than that would be considered a failure.
As LeBron James prepares for another long postseason run on his 35-year-old legs, he’s well aware of this. It’s nice that the Lakers clinched the Western Conference’s best record for the first time in 10 years and it would be an amazing story for the 17th-year veteran to tie the mark for being the oldest player in NBA history to win the MVP award.
However, this season is all for naught if the Lakers don’t hoist their 17th Larry O’Brien Trophy. There are no if’s or but’s about it.
And as James continues his quest to win a fourth NBA title — and hopefully reach Michael Jordan’s mark of six before it’s all said and done — he’s well aware of what the Lakers need in order to accomplish that objective.
No, it’s not necessarily James himself. And no, it’s not Anthony Davis, who has proven to be the Lakers’ top scoring option this season.
It’s none other than Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers’ enigmatic third offensive option. As Los Angeles snapped a three-game losing streak in their 124-121 win over the Denver Nuggets, it was Kuzma’s game-winning 3-pointer over the 7-foot-2 Bol Bol which gave the Lakers the victory.
Here is what James had to say about Kuzma’s value to the Lakers as they brace for a difficult road through the Western Conference playoffs.
Kuzma was the absolute difference maker in the Lakers’ latest win. The 25-year-old scored 25 points on 11-of-16 from the field with a +16 plus/minus rating — the second-highest mark on the team.
Kuzma’s 25-point effort complimented James’ 29-point effort and Anthony Davis’ 27-point effort extremely well.
Although Kuzma has shifted to a smaller role this season as a sixth man off of the bench, the Lakers don’t exactly possess a deep arsenal of scoring weapons. Outside of James, Davis and Kuzma, Los Angeles doesn’t feature any other scoring weapons that can consistently create their own shot.
To demonstrate Kuzma’s value to the Lakers when it comes to scoring, take a look at this statistic: When Kuzma scores at least 20 points, the Lakers are 8-2.
Perhaps the best result of the Lakers’ latest win is that it appears Kuzma’s confidence is skyrocketing. That didn’t exactly transpire throughout the season as the young forward adjusted to a new role and dealt with trade rumors leading into the deadline.
“I think Jesus could be in front of me and I’d probably still shoot,” Kuzma said. “I mean, it doesn’t really matter to me. I got an open look. It’s a play we kind of ran in practice a few times prior to the restart, and Coach had faith in me and called my number and it paid off.”
There is a lot at stake for all parties involved. While it appears Davis is headed towards a long-term deal in Los Angeles, you never really know until ink is signed to paper. This 2019-20 season represents the Lakers’ best chance at winning a title.
Simply put, there is no guarantee that the Lakers will be this good next season. Maybe James declines a little, Davis bolts Los Angeles or the competition gets stiffer. Crazy things happen in the NBA. Who would have thought the Golden State Warriors would emerge as the worst team in the league this season after five consecutive Finals appearances?
The point is, things change. And they change rather quickly in the NBA.
Outside of what is at stake for the Lakers as a franchise, James’ place on the all-time greats list and Davis’ quest for his first NBA title is this: the future of Kuzma. The third-year forward is still operating without a contract extension. He enters next season in the last year of his deal with the Lakers and the franchise has given no indication that they plan on committing to him anytime soon.
If the Lakers and James want their championship — and if Kuzma wants his new contract — the man who isn’t afraid of “Jesus” guarding him is going to have to step up.
Kuzma’s new deal — and the Lakers’ quest for their first title in a decade — depend upon it.