At different times over the last few months, Kyle Kuzma has described the mixed emotions he felt when he was traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Wizards over the summer. At first, he thought he was going to Sacramento, then he was traded to Washington and with that change, he left the only NBA franchise he had known in his four-year career.
Kuzma won a championship with the Lakers and made Los Angeles his home. But he saw some positives in moving over to the Wizards because he sensed an opportunity for a fresh start and a larger role, both on the court and as a leader.
Now nearly half a season into his tenure with the Wizards, Kuzma is starting to see it come together. He has been an integral part of the Wizards all year but lately has taken his game to a different level with many of his teammates absent due to health and safety protocols.
In Monday's win over the Hornets, Kuzma had 36 points, 14 rebounds and six assists while shooting 6-for-11 from three. Russell Westbrook, whom Kuzma was traded for, is the only other Wizards player to have that many points and rebounds in a game in the last decade.
It was Kuzma's fourth straight game with 20-plus points. He's on a roll and he believes it shows this is a good fit between player and team.
"I'm just in a great situation here in Washington. The coaching staff believes in me, the players believe in me and I'm just having fun, honestly. I'm having a lot of fun," he said.
Kuzma, 26, explained how he is playing a role closer to the one he had in his first two years in L.A., before LeBron James showed up and turned them into title contenders. Kuzma was more of a primary scoring option before becoming a glue guy next to James. In Washington, he can be more assertive looking for his own shot.
Kuzma is second on the Wizards in field goal attempts this season (12.5/g), and though it's only 1.4 more shots per game than he had last season in L.A., he's averaged 20.0 shots the last four games.
Beyond the touches and shot attempts, it would be understandable if Kuzma felt less pressure playing for the Wizards than he did with the Lakers, in the shadow of James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers are a marquee franchise with sky-high expectations and there's the media attention that comes with that.
With the Wizards, it's a bit of a lower leverage situation. Kuzma, though, stopped short of comparing the two, as he clearly enjoyed his time with the Lakers where he won a championship in 2020. He just said that playing in a bigger market has its "pros and cons."
Bradley Beal broke down the differences from his perspective.
"He now has it where he can flap his wings. He can breathe and relax and go play. He doesn't have to worry about all that outside stuff, the distractions per se. He can go hoop," Beal said.
Kuzma has had a penchant for hitting clutch shots for the Wizards this season. It happened again on Monday, as he made three 3-pointers in the final three minutes to lead Washington over the Hornets.
The way the Wizards have relied on Kuzma in those moments shows the added responsibility he has assumed for his new team. While James, Davis and other veterans were the leaders of the Lakers, now he is in a central role for the Wizards.
He feels ready for that challenge and is glad he gets a chance to take it on.
"Fit and opportunity is everything in this league... This is a sport where there are extreme highs and extreme lows. But if you're in a position, like I am fortunate enough [to be in] and have people that believe in me, you can see what I can do," Kuzma said.