The biggest uncertainty remaining for the Washington Wizards ahead of free agency -which starts tomorrow- is the situation of Kyle Kuzma. The 27-year-old dynamic forward has declined his player option and is an unrestricted free agent. There will surely be demand for him in the open market, but the Wizards can also choose to retain him for a good-value contract and promise to trade him later.
The Wizards chose their direction this summer and started their rebuild, so it’s hard to imagine Kuzma will be in Washington in the long run, even if he re-signs. He will presumably prefer to be in a more competitive situation. However, there simply aren’t too many teams with cap space that can offer Kuzma what he wants both financially and competitively.
Kyle Kuzma has competition in the free-agent forward class
The two teams that make sense for Kuzma are the Sacramento Kings and the Indiana Pacers. Both teams have enough cap space to sign him outright, and a gaping hole at the wing that Kuzma can fill.
If these teams choose to use their cap space for a different player, the market could cool down for Kuzma, especially considering other free agents who play the same position as him. Players like Jerami Grant, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Grant Williams, and Cameron Johnson are competing for the same cap space, and one of them, maybe Kuzma, can get squeezed out and not get the contract they desire.
In that case, Kuzma would either have to go to another non-competitive situation like the Detroit Pistons, the Houston Rockets, or the San Antonio Spurs, only other teams with significant cap space. It is hard to fathom the existence of mutual interest between these teams and Kuzma.
This leaves sign-and-trade possibilities and re-signing with the Washington Wizards as Kuzma’s only other options. If the sign-and-trade offers are not very enticing for Washington, keeping Kuzma for a little longer wouldn’t be the end of the world, especially if they can sign him to a team-friendly contract.
What would be a good Kuzma contract for the Wizards?
Kyle Kuzma is about to turn 28, so he is in his prime. A four-year contract for him should age relatively well. Considering Kuzma is coming off a career season, it’s hard to imagine he will decline rapidly over the next few years barring an injury.
The key for the Wizards in Kuzma negotiations is to ensure the contract ends up a tradeable one. A sub-All-Star caliber two-way wing is probably worth around $25 million. Aaron Gordon and Mikal Bridges have annual salaries of around $20 million. Considering the fact that these contracts were signed in a different cap environment and overall salary inflation, Kuzma is likely to get a larger annual salary, despite being a less valuable player.
Reporting suggests that Jerami Grant and Draymond Green are likely to receive around $30 million per year contracts, Kuzma making considerably less than them seems fair.
Therefore, the Wizards’ maximum offer for Kuzma should be $25 million. Anything above that carries the risk of Kuzma becoming untradeable and kneecapping the Wizards’ salary cap flexibility going forward. The sweet spot for the Wizards is probably more around the $21-22 million annual range, but Kuzma can presumably do better than that in the open market.
The Washington Wizards will most likely not rush a deal or overpay Kuzma. It doesn’t seem like the modus operandi of the new front office. However, if the market for Kuzma is tighter than expected, there could be a real opportunity for the Wizards to land a very flippable, good-value deal, and they shouldn’t turn that down.