Kuzma outlines his priorities for free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
WASHINGTON — Kyle Kuzma sat across from Wizards president Tommy Sheppard on Saturday in Sheppard’s office at the team’s practice facility in Southeast D.C., as the two conducted Kuzma’s exit interview to put a cap on his 2022-23 season. The conversation, which lasted about a half-hour, will likely be one of many in the coming months between the Wizards and Kuzma’s camp as they aim to re-sign the 27-year-old to a new contract and keep him in Washington.
Kuzma, though, will surely have plenty of options. He’s played his way into a prime opportunity to cash in on what could be the best contract of his career, a multi-year deal that may reach nine figures. He is an ascending player who has proven he can be a key ingredient on a winning team who draws rave reviews as a teammate both on and off the court.
Kuzma told NBC Sports Washington he plans to go through the full free agent process, meaning hearing pitches from different teams. But he also reminded reporters on Saturday the Wizards are well-positioned to bring him back.
“It’s 100 percent an option… I’ve had a great time here,” Kuzma said “I’ve developed my game significantly here and there’s good people here. I’d be a fool to say it’s not an option for me.”
Kuzma arrived in Washington via trade in the summer of 2021 having played four years with the Lakers. He held career averages of 15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in L.A., but in two years with the Wizards has seen those numbers jump to 19.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. This season he has averaged a career-high 21.2 points.
His shooting percentages have stayed remarkably stable. With the Lakers, he shot 44.8% from the field and 33.8% from three compared to 45.0% and 33.6% in D.C. But the volume has gone up considerably and his ability to become a playmaker for others has also increased.
Kuzma is appreciative of the opportunity the Wizards have given him to spread his wings on offense after he took a backseat to LeBron James and Anthony Davis with the Lakers.
“I’ve grown tremendously these past two years and Wes [Unseld Jr.], Tommy [Sheppard] and Ted [Leonsis], they all gave me this platform to do this and even be in this situation. I definitely see it here because they do support me,” Kuzma said.
While this summer will be Kuzma’s chance to capitalize on his talents financially, he kept going back to personal development as a key factor in where he chooses to play moving forward. That could work in the Wizards’ favor, given how he views the last two years.
The question would be, does Kuzma see more room for growth from this point moving forward?
“I’m just trying to be myself. I’m trying to get better every year. It’s not about money, I’m going to get paid regardless anywhere [I go] and here, too. It’s about can I come into work every day and be the best version of myself, can I help lead guys, can I make other players better, can I light up rooms. All those things matter when you’re trying to be successful,” he said.
Kuzma believes he’s improved his game every season of his six-year NBA career. Kuzma said he is “irrationally confident” about his potential to keep getting better and that his goal is to “be one of the guys in the league, a top player.”
That next step for Kuzma could be making the All-Star team for the first time. To do that, he may have to choose a team where a large offensive role can be offered. As he learned the way this year, winning also matters.
Kuzma addressed that element of free agency may signal his plans. If he does choose to leave the Wizards, he could theoretically go to a better team, as Washington fell short of the play-in tournament this season.
Kuzma, though, offered some nuanced thoughts on the prospect of leaving to join a title contender and how the fact he already has a championship ring plays into that idea.
“I think you have to have patience. I believe to certain extents what guys like Dame [Lillard] and even Brad [Beal have said], those guys where they talk about how the grass is not always greener and stuff. Just because you go to a contender doesn’t mean you’re going to win a championship right away because health can be a factor,” Kuzma said.
“It sounds good and looks good on paper, but does it look good on the court? Those things matter, but at the same time I am trying to win. I do want to compete at high levels. That’s why I play this game because I’m a junkie and I love it. Life’s always better when you’re winning.”
Perhaps Kuzma can find everything he’s looking for this summer all in one place.