The Los Angeles Lakers rose their 2019-2020 championship banner on Wednesday May 12 in their final home game of the season. In a span of three seasons, the franchise transformed from a team struggling to get wins to one of the best defensive teams in the NBA.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma was one of the three players who witnessed the seismic shift in the team firsthand. Kuzma was part of a trade during the 2017 NBA Draft that sent him and Brook Lopez to the Lakers in exchange for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. On July 13, 2017, Alex Caruso signed as a two-way player and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signed as a free agent with the Lakers.
“Being a kid from Flint, Michigan, I never really thought about raising banners in the Staples Center,” Kuzma said. “It’s real surreal to me and I’m grateful that I’m able to play the game that I love.”
The Lakers had a 26-56 overall record the season before. At the end of the 2017-2018 season, the Lakers slightly improved to a 35-47 overall record.
“I’ve been here through some ugly times, some real ugly times … I’ve kind of seen it all,” Kuzma said. “Me to be here from jump, be a part of essentially turning around the organization from jump … it means a lot.”
The Flint, MI native captured the attention of Lakers fans as a rookie, he was a co-leading scorer of the team alongside former Lakers Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram with 16.1 points per game.
In his second season, LeBron James became his teammate. Although the Lakers did not make the playoffs during the 2018-2019 season, Kuzma was second to James in franchise scoring with 18.7 points per game.
When Anthony Davis arrived, Kuzma’s playing time dipped from 33.1 minutes to 25.0 minutes. However, Kuzma had the strength to handle this positively by prioritizing rebounds.
“Nothing really is too big for me,” Kuzma said. “I just love the game of basketball plain and simple.”
As a freshman with the Utah Runnin’ Utes men’s basketball team, he did not get a lot of playing time, but stayed loyal to the program.
“I just stuck with it, continued to build and build and build,” Kuzma said. “Eventually got to the NBA, had a lot of versus since being here, role changes.”
Kuzma is aware of speculation that he does not take basketball seriously because of how he dresses and dyes his hair. He mentioned how he has developed into an all-around player since he started in the NBA.
“I wouldn’t change my journey for anything because it’s been very valuable to me,” Kuzma said. “Very valuable to take a seat and watch [James] and [Davis] play, those guys helped me tremendously with my growth.”
During the 2020-2021 season, Kuzma averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds, shooting 44.3 percent from the field.
“It’s a once-in-a lifetime thing, the banner that I’ve been a part of, it’s up there forever, it’s never gonna come down,” Kuzma said. “I’ll always remember this moment.”