The deal represents a measure of continuity for the retooling Wizards, who fired Tommy Sheppard, Winger’s predecessor, in April and sent Beal to the Phoenix Suns and Porzingis to the Boston Celtics in separate June trades. Kuzma, who will turn 28 in July, will join a refashioned and younger roster that includes newcomers Jordan Poole, Tyus Jones, Landry Shamet and 2023 lottery pick Bilal Coulibaly, all of whom are 27 or younger.
“DC, let’s turn this ship around!” Kuzma tweeted Friday. “May take time but I’m committed you guys and turning the city up!”
In a separate move, the Wizards traded Monte Morris to the Detroit Pistons for a future second-round pick to clear the veteran guard’s $9.8 million salary for next season.
Kuzma, who averaged 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 64 games for the Wizards last season, cashed in on the best scoring season of his career with a significant raise.
After signing a three-year, $40 million contract extension with the Lakers in 2020, Kuzma was traded to Washington in a 2021 deal that sent Russell Westbrook to Los Angeles. Kuzma’s new contract agreement, which was first reported by ESPN, will give him a $25.5 million average annual value, nearly double the $13.3 million AAV on his previous deal.
“This is all new for me,” Kuzma said in January when asked about his growing offensive role. “I’m learning on the fly. … I played with some great players, so watching them, understanding how teams guarded them, I’m kind of seeing those things now.”
DC let’s turn this ship around!! May take time but I’m committed you guys and turning the city up!!💯💯🏽
— kuz (@kylekuzma) July 1, 2023
Kuzma, who was the subject of trade speculation before the February deadline passed without a deal, turned down a $13 million player option last month to become an unrestricted free agent, a decision he had planned for months. During his exit interview in April, the six-year veteran said it was “kind of embarrassing” and “definitely tough” to miss the playoffs for the second straight season. By June 20, as free agency neared, his tune had changed.
“The blessings are coming in abundance,” Kuzma wrote cryptically on Twitter.
After spending three seasons at the University of Utah, Kuzma was selected by the Lakers with the 27th pick in the 2017 draft. He shifted into a full-time starting role in his second season, then thrived as the sixth man following the 2019 arrival of Anthony Davis in Los Angeles.
Though Kuzma has never earned an all-star selection like Beal or Porzingis, Washington had several reasons to retain him as it enters a new era. Kuzma has no track record of serious injury, and he has shown the ability to produce in a variety of roster situations, including as a key member of the 2020 title-winning Lakers.
Unlike the massive five-year, $251 million extension Beal signed last summer, Kuzma’s new contract shouldn’t hamper Washington’s efforts to overhaul its roster. And unlike Porzingis, whose limited mobility makes him a tricky fit in the modern era, Kuzma is a well-rounded forward capable of playing either forward position.
At the same time, a roster built around Poole and Kuzma should still be on track for a quality lottery pick in the 2024 draft. Given that Poole, Kuzma and Jones can all expect expanded opportunities next season, it’s possible that all three players will enter next summer with enhanced trade value.
During a busy opening to free agency in which teams handed out more than $1 billion in contracts in less than an hour, Porzingis was reportedly expected to sign a two-year, $60 million extension with the Celtics. Former Wizards forward Rui Hachimura, who was traded to the Lakers in January, will remain in Los Angeles on a three-year deal worth $51 million.
All of the teams with enough salary cap space to outbid the Wizards for Kuzma were mired in rebuilding efforts of their own. The Sacramento Kings agreed to re-sign forward Harrison Barnes on a three-year, $54 million contract Thursday, and the Pistons traded for guard Joe Harris on Friday, removing two potential landing spots. The Houston Rockets, who entered free agency with the most cap space, reportedly agreed to a three-year deal with Fred VanVleet worth $130 million.
“For me, it’s all about my growth and how I can improve,” Kuzma said in January when asked what he would prioritize in free agency. “That’s the thing I’m always chasing: trying to get better.”