Kyle Kuzma Says He Looks At Kawhi Leonard As Inspiration

Melissa Rohlin

Kyle Kuzma is patiently waiting his turn. 

He wants to make a name for himself. He wants to realize his potential. But the 24-year-old, who is in his third season in the league, also knows it's going to take time to get where he wants to be. 

He looks at Kawhi Leonard as inspiration. 

"He was a Spur for three, four, five years, whatever it was, waited his turn behind [Tim] Duncan, [Manu] Ginobili and [Tony] Parker, and did his thing," Kuzma said in a conference call on Tuesday. "So I just take away the progression mindset to get better every day, focus on what I can control, and my time’s coming."

Leonard, a forward for the Clippers, went from from being a role player with the Spurs to arguably the best two-way player in the league. He's a two-time NBA champion, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, a four-time All-Star and a two-time Finals MVP. 

Kuzma has a ways to go in developing his game. 

He's has been brilliant in flashes this season, such as when he scored a season-high 36 points against Oklahoma City on January 11 while superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis were out. 

But he's struggled with consistency -- and his name has been consistently entangled in trade rumors ever since the Lakers acquired him in a draft-day trade from the Brooklyn Nets in 2017. 

Kuzma, however, knows he currently has a very unique opportunity -- he can make an impact on a championship contender. 

"That’s why I’m taking this so serious," he said. "Like I said over this whole quarantine, I’ve kind of just been preparing my mind and my body and just getting ready for this opportunity. Not many players have opportunities to win rings. I have a chance to do that in my third year. Kind of really make moves in my career going forward. That’s important. Guys can go across this league [and] average 20, 25 [points] and just never win. I don’t want that. I want a legacy."

Lakers veteran Jared Dudley has been helping Kuzma navigate how to best help the team while also developing his own game. 

"He’s the one I thought I could help the most," Dudley said. "He’s the one I thought had the most potential to take us over the top. And so for me, it’s trying to balance for me, 'Hey, how do you develop your game while still [helping] a championship team?' Very tough."

Kuzma has averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 24.6 minutes a game this season for the Lakers, who are atop the Western Conference with a record of 49-14.  

Kuzma said the hiatus has been very good for him, both mentally and physically. 

After the league was paused March 11 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he used the last four months to rehabilitate his body and rejuvenate his mind. 

"I feel unbelievable health-wise," he said. "I feel great. Throughout the season, had some injuries, playing through injuries. The break allowed me to physically get 100 percent. Mentally, I’ve been reading, meditating and painting a lot. Just preparing my mind for the playoffs. So, I feel great."

Now he's ready to make a difference in any way he can. 

He's going to control what he can control. 

"I feel like it’s a brand new season," he said.