Kyle Kuzma will soon take part in Team USA training camp in Las Vegas, but this week he was adjusting to a new teammate in front of a computer.
“We have a little chemistry building,” Kuzma said as he looked over at Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson during a break at a premiere for “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,” which will be released Oct. 25.
“He’s a good teammate,” Thompson said. “I can tell he plays ‘Call of Duty’ a lot. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s very skilled. Not as skilled as me, but he’s solid.”
The duo played with and against members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, and afterward Kuzma asked Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn and Allie Long about playing and winning the World Cup last month. While many top NBA players have chosen not to particpate for Team USA in the basketball World Cup in China this month, Kuzma said “I couldn’t let this opportunity slip by.”
“I’m not going to take for granted the chance to represent my country,” he said . " I worked hard for this moment. I wasn’t a top recruit or an All-American, so I earned this. … I’ve also heard from some players who say they come back from Team USA more confident and poised and have career years. Hopefully, I can do the same.”
Thompson is among the players who credited their Team USA debut with being a turning point in his careers . At 22, Thompson averaged 16.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists. At 23, he averaged 18.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Then he took part in the World Cup in Spain for Team USA and came back to enjoy a career year at 24, averaging 21.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and becoming an All-Star for the first time .
Kuzma has had a similar start to his career. At 22, he averaged 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Last season, at 23, he averaged 18.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Thompson believes Kuzma could see a similar career spike at 24 when he returns from his World Cup experience with Team USA.
“He’s perfect for today’s game with his ability to score on the perimeter,” Thompson said. “He’s really like a three man playing the four. He has to improve his catch-and-shoot ability a little more, obviously playing with LeBron [James] and A.D. [Anthony Davis] now, but I think he’s going to take on that third superstar role and really take off with it. He’s a very hard worker, which is what I like about him.
“I know him playing for Team USA is going to pay huge dividends for him because that’s what it did for me. … That was the turning point in my career, playing against international superstars. If he goes out there and plays hard and puts the team on his shoulders, that’s going to give him so much confidence coming into this season like it did for myself in 2014.”
Kuzma also has been working with Carmelo Anthony, a 10-time All-Star who has won three gold medals with Team USA and is trying to get back into the NBA after playing just 10 games for Houston last season.
“It’s been amazing working with Carmelo,” Kuzma said. “He’s one of the greatest players of all time and one of the best scorers of all time. Getting to learn little things from him that will hopefully help my game will be big for me this season.”
Anthony said he reached out to the Lakers about playing for them next season.
“Melo is easily better than half the league right now,” Kuzma said. “There’s no question about it. He should be on a team right now. He’s still one of the best players. The slander people throw at him is something I don’t really understand. Maybe that’s just the way today’s society is right now.
“It would be great to see him in L.A., but I don’t make those decisions. That’s up to Rob [Pelinka] to make those decisions as far as what he thinks is best for the Lakers. He’s done a great job so far putting this team together.”
Kuzma smiled thinking about the job Pelinka has done this offseason, adding Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Danny Green, Avery Bradley and others, making the Lakers the betting favorite to win the championship next season, according to some odds makers.
“I’m not really sure what it’s like to be a Laker and win,” Kuzma said. “I’ve heard about it, but ever since I’ve been here we’ve had two consecutive losing seasons.”
Kuzma already discovered that playing for the Lakers means paparazzi tracking your moves , whether it’s talking to Shaquille O’Neal at his new restaurant or being on a yacht with Kendall Jenner.
“It’s obviously different being out in L.A. with all the media and attention that’s out here,” Kuzma said. “For me, I wouldn’t change it for anything. It took me a long time to get to this point and I’m just embracing it all. It comes with the territory, and this is what you sign up for when you’re a Laker. It’s not for everybody, but I love the spotlight.”
When the Lakers struck out on signing Kawhi Leonard, many fans shifted their focus to Kuzma as someone who could develop into the team’s third star. Kuzma didn’t shy away from embracing that role when asked if that was something he could become next season playing alongside James and Davis.
“I’m excited for the challenge,” Kuzma said. “I’ve been working hard for this moment and I’m ready for it.”