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Column: Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma profits like few third wheels in NBA

Kyle Kuzma chats with Lakers teammate LeBron James during the Las Vegas Summer League.
Kyle Kuzma might not have quite the impact on the NBA court as Lakers teammate LeBron James, but Puma is counting on his locale and popularity.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

When the Lakers were trying to sign Kawhi Leonard this summer they needed two superstars to leave money on the table in order to make it happen.

The move required Anthony Davis to waive a $4-million trade kicker and Leonard to take about $1 million less per year than he could make with the Clippers.

It seemed like a nonstarter. Players — or anyone for that matter — generally don’t pass on millions of dollars.

But Davis did waive his trade kicker and Leonard met with the Lakers and seemed willing to take less to play for them if the Clippers weren’t able to add Paul George.

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Why?

The truth is neither would be leaving money on the table. Think of it as an investment. There’s a monetary value attached to being a star player on the Lakers that simply isn’t there when you’re a star player on another team.

On Wednesday, Kyle Kuzma became the face of Puma basketball. The shoe company reportedly signed the third-year Lakers forward to a five-year, $15-million contract and will build their basketball division around him.

Kuzma, 24, has never been selected an All-Star but is being treated like one by Puma, which plastered his new logo around downtown this week. Kuzma is a good player. He averaged 18.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists last season for the Lakers but came in at No. 71 in ESPN’s ranking of players in the NBA. Most players outside of the top 70 aren’t getting shoe deals and their own logo painted on the side of buildings. That comes with being a key player on a championship-contending Lakers team.

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Kuzma is currently positioned to be the third star on the Lakers alongside LeBron James and Davis, two of the top five players in the league, and his Puma deal shows the value of that role with a contender.

“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.”

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The Clippers open the preseason Thursday night against the Houston Rockets in Hawaii. While Leonard, George and Russell Westbrook will not play in the game, Doc Rivers will get to coach against his son, Austin, who played for the Clippers and his father from 2015-2018. Doc said he learned a valuable lesson coaching his son.

“He said something that really helped me coachingwise,” Rivers said. “He said, ‘I knew no matter how hard you were on me I knew you had my back. You’re my dad at the end of the day and I may not agree with you but I know you’re not telling me to do something unless you want me to do well.’ From a coaching standpoint, the first thing I thought was that if I can get all my players to feel that way then I’ll be a better coach.

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“If every player understands no matter how tough I am, I have their back, then I’ll be a better coach. That allows them to play in what we call a ‘free space.’ If you can just get your players to play free and give up any trust issues then they’ll be better players. Austin was able to do that and my goal now is to get Kawhi, Paul George, Lou [Williams] and Pat [Beverley] and everyone else to play that way.”

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According to BetOnline, Joe Maddon is the 3-2 favorite to be the next manager of the Angels, followed by Joe Girardi at 7-2, Buck Showaler at 5-1 and Ozzie Guillen at 6-1. Maddon, who was let go by the Chicago Cubs after missing the postseason, makes the most sense.

He spent three decades with the Angels organization as a player, coach, scout, farm league manager and was the bench coach when the team won the 2002 World Series. After he led the Cubs to their first World Series in 108 years in 2016, he took off his Cubs championship hat and put on his father’s old Angels hat. His father, also named Joe, passed away in 2002 before the Angels won the World Series and Maddon has kept his old Angels hat in his bag ever since.

If Maddon returns to Anaheim to manage the Angels, he’ll likely wear the hat again at his introductory news conference in what would be a touching moment of life coming full circle.

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Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, owner of Gallery Furniture in Houston, told the Los Angeles Times last week he was having difficulty putting money on the Houston Astros to win the World Series at Las Vegas sports books.

McIngvale offered a refund on any mattress purchase of at least $3,000 if the Astros won the World Series. He did the same thing two years ago and gave away $13 million in furniture but hedged the promotion through insurance policies and bets on Houston at various sports books. The problem is he didn’t get insurance this year and the largest bet Vegas was willing to take from him was for $200,000.

There was one big difference in McIngvale’s favor, though. There are now 13 states with legal, regulated sports betting and McIngvale this week bet $5 million on the Astros through DraftKings and FanDuel sportsbooks for a chance to win $11 million and plans to continue until his $15 million liability is covered.

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“I still have more bets to make but I have time,” McIngvale said. “The World Series is a month from now.”

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The Lakers had their media day Friday, the Clippers held their media day Sunday and Los Angeles’ third-most popular basketball team will hold its media day Oct. 13 when Sierra Canyon High in Chatsworth invites the media to its campus. Why is a high school basketball team having an NBA-style media day that will be catered by Brent’s Deli? Look no further than who’s on the team and who will be sitting courtside for most of their games.

Dwyane Wade’s son, Zaire, will be on the team with James’ son, Bronny, and they will be joined by five-star recruits Ziaire Williams and Brandon Boston.

“It’s crazy,” Wade said of his son playing with James’ son. “It’s something we never even talked about. Even when we were together in Miami, they didn’t go to the same school. At this time in both of their high school lives, to be able to put them together to hopefully do something special this year at Sierra Canyon is great.”


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