Kuzma was the one piece of that young group who was untouchable for a time, but that changed two weeks ago as the Lakers sent Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and a first-round pick to the Wizards for Russell Westbrook in what ended up as a five-team deal. The Utah product went from being considered a cornerstone piece in Los Angeles, to a role player on a title winner alongside a pair of future Hall of Famers, to receiving a rebirth in the nation’s capital.
That’s a lot of role changes for a 26-year-old who has yet to reach his prime.
“It’s a form of adversity,” Kuzma said during his introduction to Washington reporters Tuesday, conducted via a video conference call. “It’s something that you have to really face and take head on. Obviously, changing roles, it’s tough — especially when you’re a young player, when you’re trying to establish yourself. . . . I kind of learned on the fly. By doing that it’s probably the best thing that really ever happened. Because if you look at my career, you look at my first two years, I was a main option. I was a scoring threat, which I can still do. But now going through the type of role changes and the type of environment and culture that I was in, I just really believe that I can do it all on the floor.
“It was super, super important for my growth, and it’s only going to help me this season with the Wizards and the rest of my career.”
The new-look Wizards added the Lakers’ trio, former Net Spencer Dinwiddie, former Pacer Aaron Holiday and draft picks Corey Kispert and Isaiah Todd to the youthful foundation of Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Thomas Bryant and Daniel Gafford to play alongside veterans Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. There’s talent throughout that group and a superstar in Beal but plenty of questions about how it will all fit.
The production of Kuzma will be one of the biggest factors in the team’s success (or lack thereof). He was named to the all-rookie team and averaged 18.7 points in his second season but averaged just 12.9 last season as the Lakers were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
As a versatile 6-foot-10, 221-pound forward, Kuzma has shown the ability to be a secondary scorer or fill a simpler role as a shooter and defender. The Wizards would love for him to grow into a nightly mismatch with his size and athleticism, and he noted that this offseason has been spent working on his strength, defense and ballhandling. Either way, he wants to be more of a leader and display the nuances he picked up from former teammates James, Rajon Rondo and Tyson Chandler.
“Professionalism, I think that’s the number one thing,” Kuzma said. “I think that’s very, very important when you’re trying to build a winning culture, a culture that can contend for championships. You need professionalism, you need humility, you need to be able to understand people.
“You have to lead by example. You can’t just be a talker. In order for guys to respect you and respect your knowledge of the game, you have to do it at a high level and show it every day.”
Two things the Wizards focused on adding this offseason were shooting and defense, and Kuzma has shown the ability to do both in stretches. Washington needs to see both more consistently.
Holiday, brother of U.S. gold medalist Jrue, also wants to show he can do both. He’ll probably play a backup combo guard role with Dinwiddie and Beal starting. Dinwiddie noted that he hated playing against Holiday because of his defensive prowess. That seems to be a facet he is eager to bring, along with the opportunity to expand other parts of his game after averaging 7.2 points and shooting 39 percent from the field last season.
“He’s one of the top players in our league, so him saying that is a blessing, honestly,” Holiday said Tuesday. “I just try to go out there and play hard, whether that’s picking up full court or picking up at half court. Just try to be aggressive, try to make the offensive player do what I want him to do.
“Defense is just will and heart, and I feel like I can bring that to the team, for sure.”
Notes: The Wizards announced the rest of their coaching staff Tuesday after the recent hiring of Wes Unseld Jr. Pat Delany, Joseph Blair, Mike Miller and Zach Guthrie will fill assistant roles for the first-time head coach. The Wizards retained Ryan Richman and Dean Oliver as assistants. ....
The Wizards’ summer league team played its first game Tuesday night in Las Vegas and fell, 89-75, to the Sacramento Kings. Corey Kispert, Washington’s first-round draft pick, made a pair of three-pointers and finished with eight points in 26 minutes.
Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers had been postponed because of the NBA’s coronavirus protocols. The Wizards didn’t have enough players to take the court because of contact tracing.