With both Forward (F) Kyle Kuzma and Guard (G) D’Angelo Russell respectively playing at all-star potential this year and as of right now being their team’s number one option, the question arises once again: which franchise won the trade?
In the summer of 2017, the Los Angeles Lakers (LAL) shipped their rising star Russell and Center (C) Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets (BKN) for (C) Brook Lopez as well as the 27th overall draft rights to Kuzma. This trade was made by newly hired General Manager (GM) Rob Pelinka and President of Basketball Operations Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The Lakers were looking to unload Mozgov’s ridiculous contract and departing with Russell was necessary to get the deal done.
They also didn’t see Russell as the future anymore, as (G) Lonzo Ball was on their minds with the second overall draft selection, but it was adding Kuzma that allowed the Lakers to freely move on from Russell with no regrets.
According to ESPN, both players have comparable stats along with an overall (25-23) overall team record.
Now in his second season, Kuzma is averaging 19.3 points per game (PPG), 6.0 rebounds per game (RPG), 2.4 assists per game (APG), 0.67 steals per game (SPG), 2.1 turnovers per game (TPG), and an overall 15.2 player efficiency rating (PER).
Now in his fourth season, Russell is averaging 19.2 points per game (PPG), 3.7 rebounds per game (RPG), 6.4 assists per game (APG) 1.1 steals per game (SPG), 2.8 turnovers per game (TPG), and an overall 19.0 player efficiency rating (PER).
With identical stat lines, it’s hard to say that one player is obviously better than the other. However, to break down this trade in terms of quality of the player on and off the court the Lakers get the edge.
From the start, Kuzma hit the ground running with a defining NBA Summer League presentation that awarded him NBA Summer League Finals (MVP) along with a NBA Summer League Championship (something that was expected with Russell’s two appearances in the contests but never happened with him).
Kuzma would then go on to play a total of 77 games during his 2017-2018 rookie season and was also put into the starting rotation 37 of those times. In his first start he led the Lakers over the Nets, while also recording his first career double-double.
His game was by far the most consistent of any of the Lakers players and was consistently getting high praise from NBA Superstar Kevin Durant, “Kuzma should have been a lottery pick… Kuzma is a problem, I like him”.
He has been a glue to the team’s young core and compliments each person’s game. Kuzma enjoys the spotlight but doesn’t put himself there alone as he vocalizes that his game is better because of his teammates. He has created a brotherhood with his current teammates and even those that were on the same roster of Russell’s tenure.
Kuzma would later go on to be selected on the Rising Stars roster for All-Star Weekend and be named to the All-NBA Rookie First Team in May of 2018.
This year Kuzma has drawn attention from more stars during and after games. He’s overshadowed the play of Lonzo Ball and (G/F) Brandon Ingram who was supposed to outshine the play of Kuzma. He’s started 44 of 46 games so far and is in the top-10 All-Star voting for Forwards of the Western Conference.
Lastly, Kuzma is benefiting more as he does have Superstar (F) LeBron James on his team, however he’s playing like he’s the franchise player.
For Russell however, the intensity to be great began right away as he started his career with higher expectations than Kuzma did. He was the highest selection by the Lakers since the selection of Hall of Fame (F) James Worthy, so the organization was ready to see him make splash early on as many of their former high draft selections did in the past.
Unfairly, he also started his career overshadowed by the announcement that his teammate and possibly the greatest Laker of all-time Kobe Bryant was retiring from the NBA.
Russell had great flashes early on hitting game-winning jumpers and being named to the All-NBA Rookie Second Team for the Lakers.
However, his off the court actions held no patience within the organization, his chemistry with teammates like Nick Young as well as Brandon Ingram fell through, and overall lack of consistency was troublesome.
So, once he was traded it was a fresh start for everyone. He embraced in the east coast culture by hitting the gym constantly with high praised workout coach Chris Brickley and was ready to lead a franchise that doesn’t hold the expectations as do the Lakers.
While Kuzma shined in his first season since the trade, Russell didn’t. He recorded averages similar to his first three seasons in the league in under just 50 games played but the one thing that was for certain was his future. The Nets were going to be patient with him, unlike the Lakers.
Now, in a healthy season Russell has removed his name from any off the court negativities. His game is doing all the talking, his personal, and his level of play are qualities that the Lakers expected years back.
The Nets have become a unified group led by Russell. He’s also positioning the team to make the playoffs in a year that was supposed to be a rebuilding one. Currently, the Nets are holding onto a four-game win streak.
He’s not playing with the most talent around him but he’s not complaining about it. Fellow (G) Spencer Dinwiddie has helped Russell develop into a more efficient playmaker and (C) Jarrett Allen has polished Russell’s inside-out game.
Russell age 22 and Kuzma age 23, both have built themselves for a bright future.
The Nets benefited from this trade because they finally have a face to the franchise, something they were missing since they made the blockbuster trade acquiring multiple hall of fame talent players and giving up their future picks. In a conference that has positions from 4-8 pretty wide open, the Nets can find themselves in the playoffs for years to come as long as they go through Russell.
As for Kuzma, he wasn’t supposed to be this good. He was supposed to be a nice pick up that helped the Lakers get salary cap space. He wasn’t supposed to be better than Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. He’s LeBron’s number two and that says a lot for a team filled with talented players. Lastly, he’s such s string asset that the Lakers were comfortable trading away former forwards Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and guard Jordan Clarkson.
So, after the whole breakdown it’s evident that the clear winner of this trade are the Los Angeles Lakers.
They are winners because in the grand scheme of things they were able to trade for more talent in Kuzma. He can stretch the floor better, he’s more consistent, he’s a better guy in the locker room, he’s unmatched in that his size can play positions one through four, and he’s ready to take on the expectations that come with being in L.A. Also they created cap space for top-tier free agents this summer with the trade, built a roster to attract LeBron James to sign in L.A., and helped put the Lakers back on the map.