WESTWOOD, Calif. -- Kyle Kuzma stepped off the Washington Wizards' chartered plane, some 2,700 miles West and 25 degrees warmer than his new home in the nation's capital and couldn't help but share his excitement with his million-plus Twitter followers.
"Nothing like getting off the plane and that California breeze hit you," Kuzma tweeted Thursday morning after the Wizards landed in Los Angeles.
Nothing like getting off the plane and that California breeze hit you 🌴— kuz (@kylekuzma) December 15, 2022
"Tampering," Mitchell replied, with two laughing emojis. "Basically," Young replied to Mitchell, agreeing that Kuzma's tweet had some not-so-subtle subtext behind it.
Their insinuation was that Kuzma -- who told the Washington Post this week that he would not seek an in-season extension with the Wizards and plans to opt out of the final year of his contract -- wanted to make it a permanent trip.
Kuzma, they figured, was trying to tip the scales to return to the Los Angeles Lakers after the purple and gold sent him to D.C. in the Russell Westbrook deal in the summer of 2021.
ESPN reported last month that the Lakers planned to become more active on the trade market come Dec. 15 when contracts signed during the summer become eligible to be moved.
"I mean, everything I do gets attention," Kuzma told ESPN after the Wizards' practice at UCLA on Friday, scoffing at Mitchell and Young's responses. "So, it is what it is."
Kuzma is certainly not asking out. His game has expanded in a season and a half with the Wizards, and he is putting up career-highs in points (21.4), field goal percentage (46.2%), assists (3.6) and minutes (35.0) per game.
But he isn't a rookie when it comes to knowing how the league works. The most the Wizards can offer him is a four-year, $70 million in-season contract extension.
"It's not a smart business move," Kuzma said. "The max I can make if I sign right now is $15 [million]. If you look at the market, that's not market price."
When he hits the open market as an unrestricted free agent, he would qualify for a max contract of up to 30% of a team's salary cap -- up to approximately $40 million per year -- according to ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks. There are nine teams with significant projected cap room in the summer of 2023, including the Lakers, according to Marks.
While the Wizards have fallen on tough times, dropping 11 of their last 12 games heading into their back-to-back Saturday against the LA Clippers and Sunday against the Lakers, they still value the 27-year-old stretch 4 as a potential building block for the franchise.
"I'd love to have him [in the future]," Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said after practice Friday. "A guy with his skillset and ability, does a lot for us on both ends. You need a guy that can play up, play down as far as position. He's got a good feel of being able to playmake in the open floor, play out of pick-and-rolls. He can guard 2s, 3s, and 4s; some small-ball 5s. So, to have a guy like that on your team, it's not a guy you want to lose."
Kuzma has seen trades willed into existence before. He was LeBron James' teammate on the 2018-19 Lakers when James told ESPN in December 2018 it would be "amazing" if L.A. dealt for Anthony Davis, who was then starring for the New Orleans Pelicans. Six months later, the Lakers and Pelicans made it happen.
He is not willing to go that far.
"I definitely could [lobby for a trade]," Kuzma said. "But that's very immature. I'm not a really immature person. I like to do business in a professional way. So, I would never do that."
What he will do is lay out the cards as they stand now.
"I haven't heard anything," he said when asked about a potential trade. "The Wizards love me. It's going to be really tough to do. Do the Lakers have anything [to make a deal]?"
And he'll speak openly about how much the Lakers mean to him, after trading for him on draft night in 2017 and helping to grow him into a championship player who complemented James and Anthony Davis in 2020.
"It means everything to me and my career," Kuzma said of his Laker ties. "They're the team that gave me an opportunity to be who I am, to provide for my family. They provided this platform that I have. It means everything in the world."
He said he still frequently watches Lakers games. "I play on the East Coast and it's 10 o'clock when I get home and the Lakers play 40 times a year [on national television]," Kuzma said. "So it's the only game on TV."
And he still keeps in touch with James.
"I have a great relationship with Bron," Kuzma said. "I talk to him often. He's always been like a mentor to me, someone I've always looked at as someone I try to pattern my game after. I've watched him for so many years and see how effective he is at getting others involved and how important that is. I ask him questions, whatever. He's always been like a big brother to me."
Kuzma is content to let the process play out and enjoy a couple days on the road in L.A. away from the winter.
"The Wizards made it clear that they value me," Kuzma said. "But at the end of the day, this is a business. I'm not naïve and a fool. I understand everybody in this league is tradable. There's not one untradeable person. So, I learned that my first go-round [in L.A.]."
While Kuzma admitted that everything he does draws attention, he didn't cop to just how active his role is in that occurring.
Reflecting on the phone call he had with Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka the day L.A. decided to send him to D.C. in the Westbrook deal, Kuzma might have left a bread crumb to follow of what's to come.
"I was walking my dog," Kuzma said. "I got a call from Rob and he was like, 'Hey man, I love you, this is just a part of the business and this is never a 'goodbye,' it's always a 'see you later.'"