Kyle Kuzma is the only young Laker who wasn’t voted off the island, but he’ll now have to watch at least the start of the preseason from the sideline. The Lakers announced Thursday that Kuzma will be out with a stress reaction in his left foot until at least mid-October, when the team will return from its preseason games in China. Kuzma, who suffered the injury while with Team USA and didn’t play in any World Cup games as a result, will reportedly still travel with the team to China and be reevaluated upon returning to the States.
The injury puts the Lakers behind the eight ball before the season even begins. Their roster is already top heavy, with a steep drop-off in talent after LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They hoped that Kuzma would take a leap that would bridge the gap between the All-Stars and the rest of the roster. The Lakers will go as far as Davis and LeBron take them, but Kuzma has the potential to raise their ceiling. Aside from rookie Talen Horton-Tucker (who is also recovering from a stress reaction), the 24-year-old Kuzma is the Lakers’ youngest player.
On this version of the Lakers, Kuzma’s role is simplified by the sheer fact that LeBron and Davis will monopolize the ball. He may be a minus on defense, but he should be swimming in open looks. The Lakers have already seen what can happen without reliable shooters around LeBron. If Kuzma can make shots at a respectable clip, it will add a different dynamic to the Lakers’ offensive attack.
But Kuzma is a bit of an enigma. He had a breakthrough season as a rookie, but his 3-point shooting dropped off last season, from 37 percent to 30. He got to the line more often and had an uptick in assists, but he also rebounded the ball slightly less. If Kuzma is not scoring, it will be hard to keep him on the court. (Remember the two weeks at the beginning of last season when the Lakers entertained whether he could play the small-ball 5? That was fun.)
Despite such a thin depth chart—especially after losing DeMarcus Cousins—the Lakers hoped that James and Davis would be enough to carry the team as they found the right combinations around them. But Kuzma’s injury cuts into their time in the preseason to develop chemistry, and it’s possible it could linger beyond that. The Lakers gave no timeline for Kuzma’s return, and a stress reaction is less serious than a stress fracture, but the former can be a precursor to the latter. If that happens, Kuzma could be out anywhere from six to eight more weeks.
Heading into a season where as many as 10 teams could be title contenders, the margin for error is already slim. Every minor setback could be more important than we think, especially for a team with as little depth as the Lakers.