In 2008, the Boston Celtics changed the landscape of the National Basketball Association forever. By pairing Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen together on one team, they ushered in the modern “Big 3” era by winning an NBA championship. With their victory, the Boston trio cemented their legacy by putting the rest of the league on notice. Their banner raising effort made it clear that in order to win titles, a team must assemble an all-star cast of no less than three superstar players.
Two seasons later, current Los Angeles Lakers’ forward Lebron James followed suit as he infamously took his talents to South Beach. Both he and Chris Bosh joined Dwayne Wade on the Miami Heat, and together the trio would make four straight NBA Finals appearances and claim two titles for themselves. Then, LeBron returned to Cleveland and formed a new core with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Meanwhile, the rest of the league jumped on the band-wagon and attempted to assemble their own three-star cores. Then there were the Golden State Warriors, who were quietly building a juggernaut of their own. Eventually, the team added Kevin Durant and the Warriors’ dynasty finished as NBA champions three of the last five seasons.
So here we are in the present day NBA, and this past July free-agent signing period showed more player movement than ever before. With the rise of solid, draft-built teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics, teams are again inspired to assemble the best rosters they can through means of drafting and by clearing cap space for potential free-agent stars. The Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets are the latest teams to buck the “Big 3” trend, by finishing off their rebuilds this summer with each team acquiring only two All-NBA performers to go along with a well balanced supporting cast.
However, the Lakers aren’t following suit. With LeBron James in place as the face of the franchise since signing with the team last summer, it’s become clear the front office plans to stick with a strategy that has defined James career. “Buddy Ball” is the term that coins his strategy. The team assembled a solid core through the draft the past few seasons prior to signing LeBron. Yet when they paired the forward with their young core, the results ended up being mild at best. James missed a good chunk of the season with a lower-body injury and the team missed the playoffs, again. Allegedly, LeBron was disatisfied with the young players efforts and their lack of desire to win.
Many NBA free agents-to-be are “forcing” their way to preferred destinations and greener pastures. Because of this, teams have lost control of their superstar players. All-NBA forward Anthony Davis was the latest to force his team’s hand by putting the New Orleans Pelicans on notice that either they trade him NOW or risk losing him for nothing down the line.
With the Lakers looking to add more star power and Davis yearning to play for a contender, LeBron seized the opportunity to use his influence and suggested it would be “amazing” to play with Davis. So the Lakers’ front office went to work. The teams recent draft-built core consisting of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart was shipped to New Orleans along with three first round picks in exchange for Davis. The trade evidences the fact that James’ still has the power to promote change within his organization, no matter who he is playing for.
James was ecstatic and proclaimed that this was, “just the beginning” for the Lakers. With the free-agent signing period set to begin, the Lakers set their sights on recent NBA Champion and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. However, the Lakers’ brass’ pitch to the former Toronto Raptor was an air-ball for the entire world to see.
Just days after his decision to sign with the Clippers, news leaked to the press that Kawhi and Lakers’ former President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson spoke prior to the beginning of free-agency. The reports suggested that Leonard wasn’t happy that the meeting became public and he decided he was unable to “trust” the Lakers as an organization. Unlike the latter, the details of Kawhi’s meetings with the Clippers and Raptors remained private.
With most of the NBA’s top free-agents already signed, Los Angeles was forced to round out their roster with veterans who signed league minimum and mid-level exception contracts. The Lakers suggest that they will still look to acquire another star in the future to compliment Davis and James, thus sticking with their “Big 3” plans for the foreseeable future.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma thinks otherwise, and recently made statements suggesting that the future is now. In early August, speaking with ESPN he said, “I don’t feel no pressure, but I believe that I am capable of being that superstar. I put a lot of work in. My progress through my journey shows that I can be there. I developed every single day, dating back to college, and I don’t see that development stunting at all.”
Those are lofty aspirations for Kuzma. Honestly, he is right on point with his analysis and his catch-and-shoot skills would pair nicely with James and his ball-dominant style of play. When they have to, each of them could dump the ball down to the low-post for Davis to go to work inside. ESPN further reported that Kuzma said, “Last year I didn’t shoot the ball well, and I still averaged almost 20 (points a night).”
With a statline reading averages of 18.9 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 46% from the floor and 30% from three-point land, Kuzma is spot on that there is room for improvement. Right now, he is currently spending the summer playing for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team and being trained by legendary San Antonio Spurs’ Head Coach Gregg Popovich in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Being surrounded by LeBron and Davis, as well as the talent and coaches on Team USA, is sure to push Kuzma to reach his full potential. Already a hard-worker, Kyle can blossom into an NBA superstar and the third-wheel of the Lakers’ “Big 3”. He has planted the seed and it seems that the organization intends to give him a shot this upcoming season. Only time will tell if that seed gets watered, and whether or not the Lakers’ potential star trio will come full bloom and see the Lakers blossom into future NBA champions.