Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma declined his player option and became a free agent on Tuesday, according to a tweet from ESPN Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
“ESPN Sources: As expected, Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma has declined his $13 million player option and become a free agent,” Wojnarowski wrote. “Kuzma will be one of the marketplace’s most prominent players. A return to Washington on a new deal remains a possibility.”
Kuzma could become a more realistic target for the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign, but other teams could also be in the mix for the Washington forward, Right Down Euclid Editor-in-Chief Evan Dammarell wrote in a Tuesday article.
“Instead, keep an eye on free agency, with multiple sources saying Kuzma is now becoming a more realistic target for Cleveland to sign with their full mid-level exception,” Dammarell wrote. “Those same sources said that the Utah Jazz, the Detroit Pistons and the Houston Rockets could also be in the mix for Kuzma and, more importantly, offer the high-scoring forward more money in free agency.”
Would Kuzma be a good fit for the Cavaliers if they can afford his asking price?
Kyle Kuzma is the former No. 27 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He has played in 406 games and started in 276 during his six years in the NBA. The 6-foot-9-inch finished last season with averages of 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game during his time with the Wizards and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Washington Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. highlighted Kuzma’s size and ability to play off the bounce in a January 2022 article.
“He’s 6’10” and people don’t really realize it,” Unseld Jr. said of Kuzma, via NBA.com. “With his size, his ability to play off the bounce, he gets to a spot. He’s a big guy. He uses his body, his leverage. He creates and initiates content and it’s tough to guard.”
“It just gives you a little bit more flexibility when you quote-unquote downsize,” Unseld Jr. continued. “You’re really not going small.”
Kuzma signed a three-year, $40 million contract extension with the Lakers in 2020. He would be sent to the Wizards along with guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, forward Montrezl Harrell and the No. 22 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft in 2021 in exchange for guard Russell Westbrook and two second-round choices.
Should the Cavs pursue Kyle Kuzma?
It’s hard to tell if Kuzma will accept an amount that will fit with the Cavs’ Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception.
The 2023-24 Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception is set to be $12.22 million, according to sports contract and salary website Spotrac. His last contract had an average of $13 million, meaning he would be taking a slight pay cut even if the Cavs used their entire exception on him.
But Kuzma could fill a need at the small forward for the Cavs if they could find a way to bring him aboard.
Cleveland cycled through forwards Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens, Dean Wade and guard Caris LeVert at the three spot throughout the 2022-23 NBA season. They could use a player who could immediately fill and keep the starting role for at least a majority of the regular season and who has some experience in the NBA playoffs.
Kuzma has played in NBA playoff series for the Lakers in 2020 and 2021. He won a ring with Los Angeles in 2020 after the team defeated the Miami Heat in six games. Kuzma would play in all six games of the series, averaging 8.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in 21.7 minutes played per game.
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The Cavs could use a confident wing who can add a scoring punch outside of the team’s big four. Kuzma will have to work on his efficiency to become a more reliable option for Cleveland after he shot 44.8% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc last season. But his 21.2 points per game, if he were to keep it up on the Cavs last year, would put him in third place on the roster behind Cavs guard Darius Garland.
Unseld Jr. called attention to his ability to play in big moments in 2022.
“He’s a confident guy,” Unseld Jr. said, via NBA.com. “He’s played in big moments. He’s had a big role on a championship team. I don’t know if it’s that or that he’s not worried about it, not afraid of the moment.”
“We know he can make big shots – he’s made big shots all season. He’s staying in attack mode, which is great…When it’s winning time, he’s not afraid of the moment. He steps up play after play.”
Either way, it will take time to see whether Kuzma re-signs with the Wizards or finds another team in free agency.
All we can do is patiently wait.