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California Dreamin’: Getting Kyle Kuzma to Memphis

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Kyle Kuzma’s name is on the rumor mill, and some analysts see a fit in Memphis.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Once upon a time, Kyle Kuzma was supposed to be the golden child of the Los Angeles Lakers. As Anthony Davis trade talks revved up, Kuzma was kept out of trade discussions; whether that was the Pelicans preferring Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, or the Lakers genuinely wanting him out of those talks can be debatable. Nonetheless, all summer, he was positioned as that third fiddle next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

He was going to be that young player that could serve in the role of a lite version of Chris Bosh. Or, he was going to be groomed to be Anthony Davis’ sidekick. Or, he was going to be that piece the Lakers used to bring on a third star.

The latter is happening sooner than expected, and it’s not going to be for that third star.

Things just haven’t gone right for Kyle Kuzma this season. He started the year hurt, and he’s experiencing career-low’s across the board — except for 3-point percentage (34.6%). The transition to the bench and to a slower pace has been a difficult adjustment for him. And the ultimate dagger — he crossed LeBron James when his trainer threw some shade regarding him and Kawhi.

The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported, last week, that the Lakers are listening to offers for Kyle Kuzma. He hinted at the Lakers for one more capable veteran that could fit alongside LeBron and AD for this championship push. It could also have to do with Kyle Kuzma’s extension talks.

As speculation has circulated, I’ve seen a name tied to Kuzma: the Memphis Grizzlies.

Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey suggested a deal where Kyle Kuzma and Avery Bradley for Jae Crowder, while Zach Buckley — also of Bleacher Report — had the Laker youngin’ 2nd on the Grizzlies’ deadline wish list, behind draft picks.

So here we are, having this discussion.

Yes, the allure of Kyle Kuzma is fascinating to the casual fan. He’s profiled as a star on social media, and he has shown a smooth score-first game that’s tailored for Overtime and Bleacher Report highlight reels.

However, is his stock really that high? Is he attainable for the Memphis Grizzlies? If so, where does he fit with this current roster construction and their long-term plan?

Kyle Kuzma has a star mentality, but in reality, he’s not a star.

Timeout: One of my favorite rants this season.

Time back in.

Though highlight machines, his personal Instagram, and Laker social media channels display him as a star, he’s a one-dimensional scorer who hasn’t added value in other facets of the game.

At that point, isn’t he just a 6’9” JR Smith? Kidding...kind of...anyways...

Kuzma’s contract is also difficult to move in a stand-alone trade, since he’s making less than $2M. Any trade involving him would require Kentatvious Caldwell-Pope ($8.1M), who’s been the Lakers’ best volume three-point shooter this season. They could also look to package Quinn Cook or DeMarcus Cousins with him, as they both make around $3M per year.

Could the Lakers get a player that could bolster their title chances even more in these type of deals? Absolutely, but it’s not necessarily the return many among NBA Twitter thought he’d net over the summer.

Now, let’s insert the Grizzlies here.

Though it’s no secret the Lakers want Andre Iguodala, they won’t give up Danny Green in order to match salaries. However, it’s not far-fetched to believe they’d be content with Jae Crowder.

The Grizzlies starting small forward fits the prototype they’ve built around LeBron and AD: he’s a versatile wing that can and will shoot from downtown, and he can also defend multiple positions. The fit with him and LeBron was clunky in Cleveland, but I also think Frank Vogel is a better coach than Ty Lue.

I wouldn’t think that the Lakers would package Avery Bradley with Kyle Kuzma, like suggested, in a trade with Jae Crowder. However, the Grizzlies could look to take back DeMarcus Cousins in a buyout situation, or they could ask for Quinn Cook — who has fallen behind both Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso in the backcourt rotation.

These trades would net the Grizzlies a young veteran combo guard that possesses a spark plug skills et and championship experience. Oh, and it’d net them Kyle Kuzma, an enigmatic young forward that can go off for big scoring nights, or just disappear.

How would Kyle Kuzma work in Memphis?

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the struggles this season, there is a happy medium between his social media perception and his criticisms. Kyle Kuzma is still a good young player, and if the right opportunity presents itself, you trade for him.

He’s two seasons removed from a First Team All-Rookie campaign, in a strong rookie class nonetheless. Last season, despite regressing as a shooter and scorer, he flashed potential as a secondary playmaker. Oh, he’s also still 24 years old too.

Kuzma’s smooth handle, offensive feel for the game, and his firepower would be a commodity for this Grizzlies team. However, the fit would also draw some questions regarding the rotation.

Kuzma is more of a 4, the same position as Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, and usually Kyle Anderson. Where would you find minutes from him? And would he take minutes away from any of these 3 players?

I wouldn’t necessarily cut the minutes of those 3, but it’d be a good experimental opportunity. Kuzma is a traditional 3 in the sense that he’s not a prolific rebounder or interior defender, but he has a strong perimeter game. The Grizzlies could have him fill Crowder’s role at the 3, which wouldn’t be a bad move.

In Taylor Jenkins’ free-flowing, pace-and-space system, he’d be able to play in one of the fastest paces again, where he could attack off the bounce, create his own shot, and find more opportunities as a playmaker.

Defensively, he could take the less difficult forward assignment with Jaren Jackson Jr., which would also help the Grizzlies’ unicorn grow as a perimeter defender too. Also, between Jackson, Clarke, Melton, and Brooks, it wouldn’t be difficult to hide Kuzma defensively.

It’d surely be exciting to see if Kyle Kuzma could regain his production from the pre-AD Laker teams and become a key player for the Grizzlies and its future.

However, I wouldn’t get excited about the potential of this deal.

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Acquiring Kyle Kuzma represents the new front office’s approach with young players — not named Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. They would get a close look at him, and he could either stick around or be apart of futher asset accumulation.

He has the talent to stick around as the 3 of the future. His scoring prowess and theoretical secondary playmaker would make him the Grizzlies’ best at that position since Rudy Gay. However, if he sticks around, they’re going to sacrifice.

Obviously, they’ll give Jaren and Ja max extensions when the time comes. If money becomes an issue, and they want to keep Kyle Kuzma, is it worth losing Brandon Clarke or even Dillon Brooks? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, acquiring Kuzma opens more opportunities for asset accumulation. Next season, he’ll make around $3M next season, which is easier to trade in a stand-alone trade. In addition, he could be attached to a bigger salary, Jonas Valanciunas ($16M) or Kyle Anderson ($9M), in a trade to bring in a legitimate starter at one of the wing positions.

The possibilities are endless.

Kyle Kuzma would a big get for the Memphis Grizzlies, but don’t have the expectations of him that social media has set. He won’t be a star, but the Hollywood forward is still a good player, and he could be a piece that enhances the Grizzlies’ future even more — whether that’s as an actual cornerstone or an asset.

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