Heisler: Kyle Kuzma, last of the young Lakers, is still here … barely

first_img Trail Blazers beat Grizzlies in play-in, earn first-round series with the Lakers Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Lakers practice early hoping to answer all questions AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersThe Clippers basically got Morris for their 2020 first-round pick, along with Moe Harkless and 2018 first-rounder Jerome Robinson.With the Lakers unable to give up a No. 1, the Knicks asked for Kyle Kuzma and were turned down.Meanwhile, speculation was rife that the Lakers had to get something, anything, for Kuzma. Once their darling, he’s now a reserve averaging only 11.6 points off the bench and shooting but 42 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range.Worse, the Lakers will have to pay him when his contract expires in 2021 … the same year as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s.Kuzma, who noted he was “consumed” by the trade babble, said Kobe Bryant once told him the time to worry was when no one talked about him. “And,” Kuzma added, “I’m the talk of the town.”It’s a new era. Had Kuzma left, the Lakers wouldn’t have a player they developed on their roster, aside from this season’s G League auxiliaries, and, if you want to count him, Alex Caruso, who wasn’t drafted and came up through the South Bay Lakers.Royalty that the Lakers had been, they had historically hit it out of the park in the draft from Elgin Baylor and Jerry West to Magic Johnson, James Worthy and, after a draft-day trade, Bryant.They’re now back to betting all they have on free agents such as LeBron James, or players like Anthony Davis nearing the end of contracts, who can demand a deal and choose a destination.This is actually a return to the Laker Way. Not many teams can rely on stealing other people’s stars, but the Lakers once did as the stars’ destination of choice, purloining Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol along with Bryant, by signing them, forcing a trade for them … or, as with then-GM Jerry West and Kobe, outsmarting someone to get them.Unfortunately for the Lakers, these things run in cycles. Their down period was overdue, arriving with a resounding thud when Bryant blew out his Achilles in the spring of 2013.Kobe’s comeback in the 2013-14 season lasted six games as the Lakers set a franchise record for losses (55) … which they broke the next season (61) … and the one after that (65).Suddenly, free agents were no longer interested. In 2015, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge rolled his eyes at a Lakers presentation but gave them a second chance at the urging of Arn Tellem, his Lakers-friendly agent.That didn’t go so well either. Aldridge wound up going to tiny-market San Antonio, where he remains still.A year later, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, whom the Lakers had dreamed of for years, went on the market, but wouldn’t even meet with the 17-65 Lakers.The Lakers were left to start over, agonizing as that would be, welcoming a series of lottery picks … none of whom remains a Laker.JULIUS RANDLE (No. 7 overall pick in 2014)Randle broke his leg in his debut and played one game of his rookie season, but he turned into a double-double machine. In an astounding move overlooked in the excitement surrounding James’ 2018 arrival, Magic cut Julius in a snit with his agent, getting nothing for him.D’ANGELO RUSSELL (No. 2 overall pick in 2015)Immature as well as talented, he lasted two seasons before Magic sent him to Brooklyn with Timofey Mozgov for Brook Lopez and the pick that became Kuzma in 2017.With Ball’s 2017 arrival, Magic showed D’Lo the door, noting, “We want to thank him for what he did for us, but what I needed was a leader.”INGRAM (No. 2 in 2016)Another Lakers fave because he worked so hard, despite missing 56 games in three seasons. He’s now breaking out, averaging 25 points in New Orleans, where he was sent as part of the package for Davis.BALL (No. 2 in 2017)Now starting to happen, too, after going to New Orleans for A.D.That 2017 draft was the first for Johnson and Rob Pelinka, who replaced Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.Johnson was dazzled by Ball, the UCLA phenom, but Lonzo missed 52 games in two seasons while showing off a bizarre shooting stroke and making just 56 percent of his free throws … as his father, LaVar, ran his mouth. (Thank heavens, that’s over.)Related Articles How athletes protesting the national anthem has evolved over 17 years center_img Nevertheless, Johnson was changing direction to go back to pursuing free agents … a natural for Magic, an icon in his own right with his effusive personality. For all the things Magic got wrong before fleeing, he hit the all-time daily double, recruiting James, who has since recruited Davis.Yet to be seen is whether there are more stars the Lakers can get to become a super team once more … like Antetokounmpo, who has signaled he will leave Milwaukee if the team doesn’t produce.The Bucks are producing spectacularly, but it’s not a race you want to find yourself left out of if there is one.It also remains to be seen if James will give up the millions of dollars needed … but the Lakers are sufficiently in tune with LeBron’s people to know.Kuzma is still here, the Last Young Laker. If it seems easy to fix him with more minutes than his current 25 per game after he averaged 20 points and shot 47 percent in six starts, it doesn’t seem urgent to Coach Frank Vogel, who plays him more if he’s hot and sits him more when he’s not.So, enjoy that blonde hairdo while ye may. Lakers, Clippers schedules set for first round of NBA playoffs Trail Blazers, Grizzlies advance to NBA play-in game; Suns, Spurs see playoff dreams dashed Where have all the young Lakers gone, long time passing?Thursday’s trade deadline saw the Lakers’ roster remain unchanged despite all the talk about stuff they had to do … like going small, despite how well they had done going huge … or signing the retired Darren Collison as a backup point guard, despite the presence of the capable Rajon Rondo.In the really bad news for the Lakers, the Clippers beat them out for the handiest player for teams in win-now mode, New York’s Marcus Morris, the NBA’s No. 5 3-point shooter at 44 percent, whose expiring contract won’t put more money on next season’s salary cap.Unfortunately for the Lakers, they were out of first-round picks to trade, barred from moving two in a row, with their 2019, 2021 and 2023 picks already gone in their huge package with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart for Anthony Davis.last_img read more