When Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma first donned the LA Lakers jersey in 2017, he immediately became the fans' prized possession. After all, he performed better than expected, even surpassing Lonzo Ball — the team's second overall pick. However, things quickly turned sour, specifically when LeBron James joined the fold. The fans' adoration for Kuzma promptly turned into hatred.
The hostility is unwarranted. James brought with him the hype that has been around him since high school. He also brought with him the promise of bringing the glory back to LA. The thing about James is that whenever he promises something, he delivers. Just ask the city of Cleveland. It created a domino effect for Kuzma, who was still looking for his identity as a player amid all his searing potential. For some reason, this was downright ignored by the fans who lambasted him every time he made a mistake, big or small.
Kuzma understands the workings of the NBA. He knows that LeBron James isn't just your regular franchise player. Kuzma is also aware of the long shadow James cast over him when they were teammates, which, up to a certain extent, hindered his development. Yes, Kuzma won a title because of James. But he likes his situation now more than ever.
"From an individual standpoint, this is kind of what I wanted. An opportunity to not be in someone's shadows."
"Being here has been extremely fun. I have an opportunity to lead and use my championship mentality. Everything I've learned from those two guys out in LA has been wonderful for my career. I believe people are seeing it now," Kuzma said, per
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 16, 2021
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These days, the criticisms have been dying down. The Wizards hold a 10-3 record for first in the Eastern Conference. Unlike before, you cannot say that Kuzma is being saved by teammates once again. Kuzma is averaging 14.5 points and a career-high 8.2 rebounds per game.
It is crystal clear that Kuzma is gunning to be heralded as one of the greats. While in LA, he compared his journey to that of Kawhi Leonard. The two-time NBA Finals MVP was deemed as a defensive specialist behind Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. It would take him a few years (and the trio's retirement) to grow out of his shell and become a bona fide star. Fans poked fun at Kuzma upon hearing this statement. But from where he stands now, there is no doubt that Kuzma is trekking the right path to superstardom. Besides, there is no shame in trying to be the best version of yourself.