Kyle Kuzma unlikely to sign extension with Wizards


LOS ANGELES — Earlier in the season, Washington Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard compared his list to disparate ingredients for a meal that is still in the planning stages. He had his protein, Bradley Beal, but the starch, vegetables, fat, and how they would come together to make a main dish had yet to be decided. One reason for the unstable nature of the group was that the Wizards had some key players with imminent and important contract decisions.

Leaving the kitchen, Sheppard spoke plainly in an interview on Oct. 14, the day of Washington’s final preseason game: “I hope the final lineup changes a little bit.”

Kyle Kuzma recently joined Sheppard in saying the quiet part out loud. In an interview this week, after statements he made in the athleticKuzma said he does not expect to sign an extension with the Wizards and plans to decline his player option for the 2023-24 season to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

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Kuzma’s intentions come as no surprise to the Wizards, for whom the 27-year-old has become a central player. Kuzma’s earning potential soars if he enters the free agent market, and Washington, with $208 million tied to Beal over the next four seasons and with Kristaps Porzingis also with a player option for next season, he could trade Kuzma at the Feb. 9 trade deadline for valuable assets rather than let him in at the agency. free without receiving anything in return.

“Those are just business decisions,” Kuzma said.

Kuzma has become an attractive option for free agent suitors or trade partners across the league by taking another step forward this season in his development.

He has never shied away from the fact that, following a Los Angeles Lakers painful trade in July 2021, he saw joining the Wizards as an opportunity to expand his game. Washington had plenty of space for a player to step up next to Beal, and Kuzma appreciated the calmer market from him that allowed him to focus and get to work.

The striker is averaging career highs in minutes (35), points per game (21.4) and field goal percentage (46.2) and is an integral enabler on offense, especially as a Beal has been out with a hamstring strain. Kuzma has been concentrating on his routine before and after games.

“Last year really gave me an idea of ​​how good I can really be in this league, and it gave me a lot of confidence to have that stretch where everyone was out. I had to do it every night, and I think that really helped set my mindset to tackle this year,” Kuzma said. “Because every night I know that I have to be ready to play at a high level to help us have a chance to win. That starts after the games, it starts the morning and the day before with how I eat, how I work out, how I recover.

“Those things, they all matter. And that’s probably why I’ve been so consistent this year. My engine has been consistent every night.”

Kuzma’s career picture was formed in Los Angeles, where the Wizards (11-18) will try to snap their eight-game losing streak this weekend against the Clippers on Saturday or the Lakers on Sunday.

The trade to Washington was a moment of forced growth. Kuzma knew that the NBA was a business; but knowing and feeling the harsh realities of an unexpected and uprooting trade are two different things. Kuzma left some of his naivety behind in Los Angeles.

But the most formative for the forward was the Lakers’ 2019-20 championship season. Kuzma was a valued role player for his on-time shooting and saw what it takes for an NBA club to come together and work in harmony.

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It’s often apparent just how much that season marked Kuzma. He invoked his former team at the start of the season when asked on media day about his favorite part of the Wizards’ players-only minicamp over the summer.

His answer was not about basketball, but the fact that his teammates met after work each day and hung out, got to know each other in relaxed situations and created chemistry naturally, just like, he said, what it was like. the locker room with the Lakers.

When asked how the Lakers experience shaped his outlook on his career, Kuzma gave a simple NBA player answer: He just wants to win. But unlike many players, Kuzma knows what that looks like in practice.

“I had the pleasure of winning at a young age, and people don’t really always have the opportunity to win and be on winning teams in this league. It’s much rarer than people think,” Kuzma said. “You shouldn’t take winning for granted, and that’s something I’ve come to realize in my career: Don’t take winning situations for granted. I’m not saying it’s always a happy workplace, because Los Angeles was a shit show. But everyone was on the same page, everyone knew what they had to do and they tried to do it. That’s rare in this league.”

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