Following the Rui Hachimura trade, the Washington Wizards seem poised to re-sign Kyle Kuzma this off-season. Kuzma, who is having a career season, has already said that he is going to opt out of the final year of his contract that was going to pay him 13 million dollars.
His performance this season suggests that he is a far superior player than the $13 million a year suggests. But how good is he and what should his next contract look like?
Kuzma is averaging 22 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4 assists this season, and he has improved every year he has been in the league. He is a much better playmaker and defender now. He has very good positional size. There simply aren’t too many players in the league who can score as well as he does without negatively impacting their team’s defense.
But he is also a volume shooter, meaning he has never been the most efficient player. His true shooting percentage of 55% and three-point percentage of 34% are well below league averages. He can get you buckets but he is not going to drive a hyper-efficient offense while doing so. He is more valuable on the ball than off-the-ball due to his below-average outside shooting. Yet, his on-the-ball abilities are not at an elite enough level for a successful offense to consistently trust him with the ball.
On the other end of the court, he is an above-average defender, but he is by no means a defensive stopper. He is not a very active help defender, as proven by his underwhelming steal and block numbers. His best role on a successful defense is probably more of a second or third-best perimeter defender on the team.
So, what does that mean for Kuzma’s next contract?
Considering he will be a 28-year-old who is in the midst of a career year, he most likely will demand a long contract. His maximum possible deal from the Wizards would be a five-year, $194 million contract. The Wizards have an advantage over other teams whose maximum deal they can offer for Kuzma is four years and $144 million. In either case, an average annual salary of over $35 million for Kuzma is too rich.
It is even richer considering the situation the Washington Wizards are in. The Wiz are going to be an expensive team next year. Bradley Beal is due over $46 million next year, Porzingis is up for an extension this summer, and depending on what Kuzma’s final deal looks like, the Wizards could easily become a luxury tax-paying team. It doesn’t seem feasible for the ownership to pay the luxury tax for a play-in level team.
That is why the most logical option is to trade Kuzma before the February 9 trade deadline. However, considering that it is not realistic to expect logic from the current Wizards front office, that seems unrealistic.
The next best thing the Wizards fans can hope for is to not have another albatross of a contract on our hands. The Wiz already have the most overpaid player in the league in their books, they cannot afford to have another one. So, when should the Wizards walk away in negotiations?
Fortunately for Kuzma, this summer’s free agent class is extremely weak. Only a handful of players (such as Draymond Green, Fred VanVleet, or Jerami Grant) are at a similar or higher level than Kuzma and are candidates to switch teams this offseason. However, unfortunately for him, most of the teams that have cap space for next season are all young and rebuilding teams like the Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, or San Antonio Spurs. It is difficult to see any of these teams splurge on a multi-year deal for a 28-year-old ball-dominant player like Kuzma.
As the salary cap is expected to rise meteorically following a lucrative new television deal that will start in 2025, a lot of the multi-year contracts signed this summer will not look as bad in a few years. Especially if the Wizards can negotiate Kuzma’s contract in a frontloaded and descending structure, they could also open up cap space in a few years.
It may be helpful to look at the salaries of a few players who are of similar age, position, and quality to Kuzma. Jerami Grant of the Portland Trail Blazers, Aaron Gordon of the Denver Nuggets and Mikal Bridges of the Phoenix Suns are all making around $20 million. All of these players have different strengths and weaknesses, but they are all sub-All-Star players like Kuzma and one could argue all three are more helpful players on a contending team because of their superior defense.
Considering the rising salary cap and the weak free agent class, Kuzma is likely to get a bigger contract than the players mentioned above. But anything above $25 million annually will not only hamstring the Wizards financially but also might make Kuzma hard to trade later.
More than anything, the Wizards need the flexibility and ability to pivot in case the current core doesn’t work out. It is of utmost importance to get this right. Hopefully, the Wizards have a good idea of what Kuzma’s demands are and what his market this summer will be. If keeping Kuzma looks like it will be too expensive, the Wiz need to be okay with the idea of parting ways.
As good as he has been all season, a player of Kyle Kuzma’s caliber is not that hard to find.