Lakers honor former teammates Kyle Kuzma, KCP before game

Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma (33) and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) react after a tribute to them before the Lakers game.
Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma (33) and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) react after a tribute to them before playing the Lakers on Friday night at Arena.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)
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Kyle Kuzma walked onto the court in Los Angeles, the crowd already having serenaded him by yelling the first syllable of his last name.

Kuzma, an NBA champion with the Lakers, was back and ready to take the floor against his old team. He ran towards LeBron James, wrapped his arm around his former teammate and then … that was it.

No one else on the court ever played a second with Kuzma on the Lakers.

Lakers games this season have told us a lot of what this team is and isn’t, but Friday against the Washington Wizards was a reminder of what they used to be — and how much they’ve changed since.


As part of the unsuccessful roster overhaul that followed last season, the Lakers sent Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Washington as part of the package to acquire Russell Westbrook.

James traded dunks with Kuzma, got hot from deep and pushed life into a crowd watching another so-so Lakers performance. At least James was there, the rare reminder of better days.

For the second time in three games, LeBron James put up 50 points or more and the Lakers needed them all in a 122-109 win over the Washington Wizards.

March 11, 2022

Before that, the biggest cheers were for the former Lakers, whom the team honored with a video tribute in the first quarter.

Before the game, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he went to joke with his team about the coverages he wanted to throw at Kuzma only to realize that the Lakers had just two active players — James and Talen Horton-Tucker — who had played with him.

Vogel fondly remembered Kuzma’s game-winner in the NBA bubble against Denver — a shot Kuzma said he still would’ve taken even if Jesus were guarding him.

“Kuz is a fun guy to coach. He really is a fun guy to be around every day and to talk the game,” Vogel said. “He loves to think the game. He loves to learn and grow.”


With the Wizards, Kuzma has been given more of a chance to do so, taking on greater responsibilities, particularly on offense, without James and Anthony Davis taking up so much of the offensive oxygen.

Kuzma entered Friday averaging 17.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists for the Wizards, starting every game.

His new coach, Wes Unseld Jr., was a Nuggets assistant when Kuzma hit that game-winner in the bubble.

“When you play against a guy like that being out in the West, you gameplan for him differently, because he’s in a certain role. Now that you have actually have a chance to coach him, there’s a lot more layers to it,” Unseld said. “There’s a lot more versatility, flexibility that he brings. You look at a guy and I think because he plays a certain way for a certain team, you don’t realize his total package, the whole skill set he brings to your group. So it’s been enlightening, but it’s been wide-eyed surprise to see the things he’s able to do and do at a high level.”

And then there’s Caldwell-Pope, an underrated member of the Lakers’ championship team. He’s also played well in Washington, averaging 12.3 points while hitting better than 39% of his threes.


“They’ll always be family,” Vogel said. “We won the championship together. And just a real positive with both of those two individual players in my time here, in the two years that we were together. I was very sorry to see them go. That’s the nature of this business.”

The player they got in return, Westbrook, couldn’t build off a good game in Houston, making just two of 11 shots. He was booed after missing a layup.