Wizards believe they are set up well to re-sign Kuzma originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
WASHINGTON — Wizards president Tommy Sheppard used the example of Bradley Beal, but he could have gone in a few different directions if he wanted to. By not trading Kyle Kuzma before Thursday’s deadline, the Wizards have signaled their intentions to re-sign Kuzma this summer.
Kuzma can opt out of his contract to be an unrestricted free agent, so the prospect of losing him is there. But as Sheppard noted, the Wizards have been down this road before, many times actually.
Beal had the ability to leave in free agency, and so have others like Davis Bertans. You could go back further, to before Sheppard took over as general manager, during his time as assistant GM, and point to John Wall and Otto Porter Jr.
Each time, the Wizards got those players to sign extensions to stay in D.C. Sheppard is now hopeful Kuzma will do the same.
“He’s obviously still a Wizard. I’m not kidding when I say this, we try to be very informed before we do any decision,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard added he has had frequent conversations with Kuzma, his teammates and others to take the temperature on where things stand. As far as he is concerned, Kuzma likes playing in Washington and, also important, the team’s ownership group is “thrilled with what Kyle has brought to the team.”
As of now, there appears to be a good fit for both sides. If that wasn’t the case, Kuzma could have been holding an introductory press conference in another city on Friday.
“I felt very confident that if we needed to move him because he expressed it or we needed to move it because we didn’t believe him, we would have done something. We believe in him and I think he believes in us,” Sheppard said.
What it will cost to sign Kuzma to a new contract is unclear, but it will surely be for quite a bit more than the $13 million he’s currently due for next season. A reasonable prediction would probably double that number and scale it across a multi-year contract.
Kuzma, 27, appears to have just entered his prime, this year averaging a career-high 21.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists (also a career-best) while shooting 45.3% from the field and 33.2% from three. Adding to his value is his approach to the game, as a willing defender and passer.
The Wizards traded for an ascending player when they acquired Kuzma in 2021 from the Lakers. He has also found a comfortable place to continue his NBA development. Not only has he continued to improve, but he is also playing with both his childhood best friend, Monte Morris, and college teammate, Delon Wright.
Giving Kuzma a substantial raise would not be done in a vacuum. The Wizards will have to manage what could be a very expensive roster with Beal already set to make $46.7 million next season in the second year of his supermax deal and Kristaps Porzingis also potentially in line for a raise. Porzingis, like Kuzma, has a player option for 2023-24, his at $36 million.
Even if Porzingis doesn’t opt out, the Wizards could owe three players over $100 million combined, leaving little room under what is projected to be a $134 million salary cap.
“I think keeping Kyle, we made it clear that that’s a priority for us in the offseason. Assuming Kristaps were to opt out, he’s a priority for us this offseason. That’s his decision and we’ll address it when we’re notified,” Sheppard said.
Part of the equation in keeping the Wizards’ top-three players together is the results in the standings. They are currently 24-29, 11th in the Eastern Conference and outside of the play-in tournament cut-off.
Surely, winning would be expected, especially if the Wizards were pushed into the luxury tax. Sheppard believes the health of his top players is paramount to their success. Beal has missed 21 of the team’s 53 games this season with various injuries, Kuzma is currently sidelined with an ankle sprain, while Porzingis has had some well-documented issues staying healthy over the years.
In the calendar year since Porzingis was acquired from the Mavericks at the 2022 deadline, the Wizards’ core three players have appeared in just 25 games together.
“We can probably do pretty well if one is out for a while, two is very difficult and three is dang near impossible. But that’s any team in the league if you take their top three players off. I don’t know that you can ever have full confidence and I know the character of those guys and their work habits,” Sheppard said.
The Wizards have set their plan and made it well known. Ultimately, it will be up to Kuzma to decide.