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The Los Angeles Lakers secured the bag when they landed LeBron James in free agency this past summer. The sheer excitement and joy exuding from Magic Johnson could be felt throughout the basketball world as he finally got the megastar he dreamed of.
With hopes of bringing showtime back to Los Angeles, Johnson not only wanted to land one superstar, but multiple stars to play alongside James.
With Paul George opting to stay in Oklahoma City and Kawhi Leonard traded to the Toronto Raptors — the thought was to wait for the summer of 2019 to lure other stars to join the King.
However, in a recent interview with Bleacher Report, Golden State Warriors’ star, Kevin Durant dropped a bombshell as to why stars would shy away from playing with James.
“So much hype comes from being around LeBron from other people,” Durant said. “He has so many fanboys in the media. Even the beat writers just fawn over him. I’m like, we’re playing basketball here, and it’s not even about basketball at certain points… So I get why anyone wouldn’t want to be in that environment because it’s toxic.”
Toxic. A word synonymous with poisonous, which deters any and everyone to stay as far away from it as possible.
While this may not be particularly true, Durant makes valid points. However, the beauty in all of this is that the Lakers need not wait for the 2019 free agency period as a rising star is currently on their roster and has matched up wonderfully so far with James.
His name is Kyle Kuzma.
The former 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft has been slept on so much it’s apropos that the chip on his shoulder continues to grow.
From the moment he stepped on the scene, Kuzma has impressed and has taken his game to greater heights in this season with the arrival of James.
Prior to the season, the talk centered around third-year small forward, Brandon Ingram being the likely counterpart to James as his skills have long been compared to that of Durant. Yet, it has been Kuzma, who has risen to the occasion with no brighter lights on him paired with James, and has more than impressed.
I admit, I’m guilty — I saw Kuzma as merely a talented scorer who wanted to score, and only score. I was wrong. This year, Kuzma has showcased his defensive skills in a variety of ways unseen in his rookie season.
Additionally, in Ingram’s absence, Kuzma has stepped up nicely. In his last four games, he is averaging 25.5 points on 51.9% shooting (38.7% from 3) and 8.3 rebounds per game. His minutes have increased (38.0 MPG) and he has not been afraid of the moment as he has averaged 19.8 field goal attempts in this time as well.
Johnson and Rob Pelinka have a responsibility to build this into a championship-caliber team. Giving James what he wants and needs, will always be a top priority during his four-year tenure.
If pairing stars with James is high on the list, they may want to notch it down just slightly. Kuzma is on his way to being James’ new partner in crime.