Lakers trying Kyle Kuzma at backup center after he added strength and versatility this summer
When the Lakers opened their gym this past summer to reporters wanting to cover workouts for NBA draft prospects, one player who wasn’t part of those workouts was almost always there.
Forward Kyle Kuzma spent most of his summer in the Lakers’ facility. When reporters entered the gym, he sometimes politely asked that they not record his activities — he preferred to keep his development quiet.
Five months after the close of his rookie season, Kuzma has returned stronger and with a more varied set of skills. Now the Lakers are challenging him to use those in unique ways. For the first time since high school, he’s being asked to play center.
“It’s a work in progress,” said the 6-foot-9 Kuzma. “It’s coming. Every day’s a challenge. You learn every single day. I’m just glad that I can definitely see it coming.”
Kuzma isn’t the Lakers’ only option to back up JaVale McGee. They have talked about using veteran forward Michael Beasley there, too. And perhaps even LeBron James.
The Lakers are exploring the possibility of using Kuzma much in the same way they used Julius Randle last season.
Randle, who at 6-9 has the size of a power forward, played center for the Lakers in their smaller lineups. The Lakers let Randle go in free agency and he signed with the New Orleans Pelicans. His versatility — the ability to defend guards as well as centers — gave the Lakers the ability to switch any of their own players to any player on an opposing team.
“He’s been working on his game, but coverages and things like that are obviously different from the five spot,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He’s been good. It hasn’t been a ton of reps, but we’ve had him out there trying to see if it could possibly work.”
Kuzma’s growing strength will help his cause. Walton and his coaches noticed the power Kuzma added to his body by spending more time in the weight room.
“He’s much more of a man right now physically,” Walton said. “The way he runs the court, the way he’s jumping and taking contact and all those things. You talked about rebounding the ball. He’s worked extremely hard this offseason and it’s showing up on court.”
Strength isn’t the only thing Kuzma added to his repertoire. He also worked to develop guard-type skills. All of it came in the name of making himself as versatile a player as possible. It all came with an eye toward the new era of positionless basketball.
The Lakers hired Kurt Rambis as a senior basketball advisor. Rambis will help the coaching staff and the front office, according to a team news release.
“As a member of the Showtime Lakers, Kurt is a champion and knows how to win,” Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson said in the release. “He has been an integral part of the Lakers organization winning four NBA championships as a player and an additional four as a part of the staff.”
Rambis played for the Lakers from 1981 to 1988 and 1993 to 1995. He also spent time in the Lakers organization on the coaching staff and in the front office from 1994 to 2009 and 2013 to 2014.
From 2009 to 2011, Rambis coached the Minnesota Timberwolves. For the last four seasons he served as an associate head coach for the New York Knicks under former Laker Derek Fisher and then Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek was fired at the end of last season and replaced by former Grizzlies coach David Fizdale.
Rambis’ wife, Lakers executive Linda Rambis, has been a part of the organization for decades. She is a close confidante of Lakers owner Jeanie Buss.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli
All things Lakers, all the time.
Get all the Lakers news you need in Dan Woike's weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.