Lakers give Kyle Kuzma too much power with lucrative contract extension

It makes sense for the Lakers to overpay Kyle Kuzma, but giving him a player option was a clear capitulation by Los Angeles’ front office. 

Kyle Kuzma’s new contract is going to raise a lot of eyebrows around the NBA. The idea that the Lakers needed to overpay Kuzma to prevent him from hitting restricted free agency isn’t that surprising. Allowing him to be the first rookie ever to receive a player option on a non-max extension was a big mistake by Los Angeles’ front office.

It’s hard to imagine Kuzma really outperforming his new three-year, $40 million deal with the Lakers. He was always a good candidate to be overpaid because of his team’s lack of any real way to replace him if he left via restricted free agency.

Los Angeles needs to do everything they can to continue to surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis with talent while they’re both still playing at a high level. Kuzma isn’t a perfect player, but his ability to stretch the floor does give Los Angeles’ halfcourt offense a much-needed boost when he’s on the court.

Kuzma clearly believes he should be a regular starter which would push his value significantly north of the $13 million and change he’ll be earning each year. The reality is that he’s almost certainly going to continue to be a bench player for Los Angeles throughout the life of this deal. He’s got no shot to play over Davis at the power forward position. At best, he can be the team’s first big off the bench when Davis shifts to playing center in high leverage situations.

$13 million might be a bit rich for a bench forward who struggles to be an average defender, but it’s a luxury the Lakers can comfortably afford. At worst, this contract is reasonable enough for Los Angeles to move Kuzma with little difficulty in the future. He may become very valuable as a potential expiring contract as his new contract winds down.

The real sin for the Lakers is their nonsensical decision to give Kuzma a player option. That gives him, as a relatively average player, entirely too much power. If he does beat the odds and blossom into a productive starter then he will certainly opt out of the deal to lock in a more lucrative deal as he enters his late-20s. If he doesn’t exercise that option it will be because he understands that $13 million is more than he can recoup on the open market.

It’s just not a concession the Lakers needed to make for such an ordinary player. The idea that Kuzma wasn’t going to sign the deal without that concession is nonsense. He’s a player who needs to lock in life-changing money while it’s on the table. As confident as Kuzma appears to be on the floor, he’s clearly not clueless when it comes to his current value. If he were, he would’ve shut down any contract talks that failed to pay him upwards of $20 million per season.

As it stands, this is another example of Rob Pelinka’s regime failing to maximize the value of a single transaction. They should have been content to offer Kuzma a fully guaranteed three-year deal or allow him to test the market via restricted free agency. Instead, they agreed in advance to just the sort of deal they would’ve hoped to avoid on the restricted market. It’s not a move that will kill the Lakers by itself, but it will rob the franchise of flexibility moving forward.

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