We’re going to preview the 2022-23 Washington Wizards season by tackling topics in a debate format and we’re going to kick things off by debating perhaps the Wizards’ most engaging and charismatic player, Kyle Kuzma. Marcus and Renzo got things started in part one, click here; an now it’s time to wrap up our debate!
Oz: So What’s your Kuz Solution? If you want to keep him, how high are you willing to go on a new contract? If you want to trade him, what are the parameters for a return? How does your suggestion reconcile with their goal of building around Beal? Would the return you get for him or the extension have a bigger impact on the build around Beal plan?
Marcus: It’s a tough situation. As much as this team wants to build around Beal, I think it should be strategic. I don’t believe there is a trade scenario with Kyle Kuzma involved that’s going to immediately make this team better, but you may be able to get young assets in return as a result. I believe the biggest gain out of this from a ‘build around Beal’ standpoint, is you gain some financial flexibility for the future. Let’s just say Beal and Porzingis show themselves to be a formidable duo, then next year you have more flexibility financially especially with the cap already reported to go up $10 million more. There will be a lot of options, but this trade would allow you to make your team deeper while using the money to find a player who is a better fit next to Beal and Porzingis.
The other part to consider too is you have about 5-6 players in the rotation who could be free agents after this season. There is a good chance this team looks drastically different a year from now. You could package Kuzma with one of those pieces to get a bigger piece to add on and/or you can simply reset the supporting cast around Beal and Porzingis. There are a lot more options by trading Kuzma and not settling with this current group.
Renzo: If they put him on the trade block tomorrow, Kyle Kuzma isn’t going for much more than one first-round pick. No team is going to trade a promising, cost-controlled player for a much older one who’s on an expiring deal. Nobody’s giving up multiple picks or anything without lottery protection. That’s just the reality.
So, instead of trading Kuzma for a meager trade package, the best the Wizards could hope for is that he turns in a standout second season in D.C. His value for Washington on the court is better than anything they could get in return in the short term. If he fizzles out, then that’s a tough blow. If he plays well next season, Tommy could flip him at the deadline for a mercenary-level deal that probably nets us a late pick, just like Ernie used to dole out for guys like Bojan Bogdanovic or Marcin Gortat.
But if he plays to his potential, the Wizards could likely negotiate a deal similar to what the New York Knicks paid Jalen Brunson - around $100 million over four seasons. Signing him to such a deal is definitely not going to restrict us financially. The fact that the cap is going up isn’t an argument against re-signing him. On the contrary, it’s a waste of an asset just to let him go or flip him for nothing much. Barring a colossal collapse in performance, that’s a movable deal at worst and a legitimate trade asset on a long-term deal at best.
If a star actually wants to sign with us, in some bizarro universe where we get the players we want, then moving him for space shouldn’t be too much of an issue. The more realistic scenario would be that his $25 million or so deal could be used to match salaries in a trade over just signing a star outright with cap space.
Whether he emerges as a key piece behind Beal or gets dangled as trade bait for a bigger fish down the line, it’s in Washington’s best interest to lock up Kyle Kuzma next offseason.
Oz: So we have your solutions, now show us your prognostication skills and tell us how this will play out for Kyle Kuzma and the Wizards! Will it work for Kyle and the organization as he tries to cement his role with this team while also showcasing himself for his next contract? Or is he in another uniform in February after the trade deadline?
Renzo: Call me a glass half full kind of fan, but I do believe Kyle Kuzma’s mini leap last season was no mirage. He’s by no means a superstar in the making, but some point to his raised usage rate as the sole reason behind his upped numbers. That’s a little bit of a disservice to actual improvements he’s made in his game.
He made huge strides as a playmaker despite not having much talent around him for large chunks of the season. Even in his high-usage 2018-19, he averaged just 4.3 potential assists per game which he upped to 6.3 last season. It’s an added dimension that will prove useful playing with two former All-Stars next season.
Kuzma also improved as a driver, making decisive moves to the basket whenever there were openings. He doubled his driving attempts from recent seasons while significantly raising his FG% in the process.
All this to say that I predict Kyle Kuzma will be a very capable, stabilizing presence for the Wizards as a third option. He’ll parlay a solid second season in D.C. into a deal that pays him north of $20 million per year over three seasons, providing Bradley Beal with a dependable power forward whose prime years match his.
If the team eventually blows it up in 2-3 years, Kuzma’s contract will look like a bargain with the rising cap figure.
Marcus: I think it’s fair for you and other fans to argue Kuzma’s improvement as justifying this extension, but I think the future with this organization should be strongly tied to what the results of the team’s success is. This team has committed a lot of money to Bradley Beal. If they get off to a bad start, even if Kuzma continues to play well, is this organization going to double down and continue to keep this core around Beal? Bottom line, Kuzma may improve, but is his improvement enough to change the trajectory of this team?
Perhaps the team will go forward with extending him regardless just because of their history of being loyal to their players, but it’s cringeworthy to think results with the team may not factor into this decision. At the end of the day, no matter how much we like the improvement Kuzma makes, or his leadership, this could be another opportunity for this team to limit their ability to improve.
I still need to see how he can fit with both Porzingis and Beal because the reality is I don’t think Kuzma’s taking a discount. He will either play well and drive his price up or he will struggle and the team will be stuck with an asset that may have had his best value last year. Should be an interesting storyline to watch this season.