DALLAS — What the Washington Wizards decide to do with Kyle Kuzma over the next two weeks will be one of the turning points of the upcoming NBA trade deadline.
Kuzma intends to decline his $13 million player option for next season and become an unrestricted free agent in July.
Wizards officials would like to re-sign Kuzma and retain him long term. But if Kuzma intends to leave Washington in free agency or is waffling on whether he’ll remain, the team must trade him before the deadline in order to ensure they receive players and/or Picks back in return.
In case you haven’t watched Kuzma play much since the Los Angeles Lakers traded him to the Wizards in a complicated five-team deal in Aug. 2021, Kuzma is no longer the role player he was during his final two seasons with the Lakers. He has emerged as a focal point of Washington’s offense and is averaging 21.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game this season.
It’s Tuesday, The Athletic caught up with the 27-year-old forward and asked him about his free-agency plans, what it’s like to be the subject of constant trade speculation and whether he wants to remain with the Wizards.
(Editor’s note: The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.)
How much thought have you given on your free-agency future?
Not much. It’s so early, you know? You don’t go through and are already searching for teams. I mean, some players may. But I’ve been so happy just being here and playing my game and developing that I’m not even really thinking about my future too much, because I’m having fun doing what I’m doing now.
You know as well as anyone how the business works. If the Wizards haven’t already, do you expect them to come to you and ask, ‘Hey, what are you feeling about your future?’”
Have they? Well.
Do you expect them to do something like that, because they can’t afford to lose a player like you for no one in return?
Sure, that’s probably coming, you know? But I’ve said from the jump I love being here, because I can play my game and I’ve developed so much. Taking on a new role has been amazing for me. I’ve never given (an) indication of any other thing. … They understand what I’m doing right now. I’m trying to get better and that’s my priority.
Having been traded before, do you worry about the trade deadline?
Nah. I’ve been in trade talks five out of six years in my career. So, I’ve seen it. I’ve been through it. I understand it. I’ve been in trade Rumors at the highest of the highest levels year after year. So, I’m numb to white noise and noise in general. I don’t get rattled and I don’t get bothered. I’m really an unbothered person at this point in my life.
You know full well they want to keep you long term.
One hundred percent.
How much of a source of peace is that for you?
Yeah, it’s a source of peace, because any time somebody wants you, that’s a good thing. You want to be wanted in this world. You don’t want to be unwanted.
So, it’s a great feeling. It’s like being wanted to be married, wanted to have a relationship. As a person, you love that, you feel love. You feel that and it makes you alive. It’s a great thing, especially when you think of the landscape of this sport between teams and players. Players are gone year after year. There are such short stints now. For anyone who wants to keep you long term, that’s a blessing.
You’ve got eyes and ears. What’s it like for you for one week to be said to be wanting out from the Wizards and then the next week the Wizards are said to be confident that they’re going to keep you?
It’s what I said a little bit earlier: This is all white noise. A lot of speculation. You know what I mean? I’m the only source in this world that knows what I want to do or what I’m thinking. So, people can think. They can say I may want out and say I want to be here or whatever. But nobody really knows but me, and I don’t even know.
Like I said, I don’t get caught up in speculation and all the Headlines and stuff, because I’ve been there. I’ve been there and done that. I understand what it is.
Could you see yourself staying in Washington for the long term?
For sure. One hundred percent. They showed me love. They have allowed me to have a platform to show my game and show the league. I’m not just a role player. I’m someone who’s arriving right now. That’s the biggest thing for me.
I want to keep elevating. Having a leadership position, having somewhere where I’m developing and playing my game and my role and I’m getting better every single game — thatit’s what i care about.
(Top photo of Kyle Kuzma: Geoff Burke / USA Today)