LeBron James: Lakers issued key Kyle Kuzma warning ‘for this year and the future’

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That’s the verdict of Fox Sports analyst Nick Wright.

Kuzma dropped 41 points from 16-of-24 shooting, including five-of-10 from three-point range, as the Lakers beat the Detroit Pistons 113-100 at Staples Centre.

That was the Lakers’ eighth game without LeBron, who has been sidelined since Christmas Day with a groin strain.

They had gone 2-5 in the previous seven before facing the Pistons but claimed back-to-back wins for the first time in their centre-piece’s absence.

Having flopped against the Dallas Mavericks in their previous game while Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram shone, Kozma received all the plaudits against Detroit.

Team-mate Michael Beasley said: “If I’m a great scorer, Kuz is scary. As long as he keeps his foot on the gas, the sky is the limit.”

And Wright believes the Lakers are reliant on Kuzma continuing to improve with the 23-year-old key to their success this season as they seek a playoff return and also pivotal to their long-term future.

Wright told First Things First on Fox Sports on Kuzma’s development: “Other than LeBron James’ health, it’s the single most critical component of the team – for this year and for the future.

“For this year because he is the second best player on this team and the only person who has an argument is Rajon Rondo who is also out through injury right now. 

“In the future, that blue chip trade piece that everybody had assigned to Ingram, slide that over to Kuz if he can keep this up. 

“It would have been amazing if both of those guys looked like blue-chippers but Kuzma went four-of-20 and to respond to the worst game of your NBA career with 41 through three quarters, what an excellent performance. 

“And the Lakers can lose any of these games without LeBron and Rondo, I don’t care if they’re home against the Pistons – any of these games are available to be losses! 

“This was a great game and it continues on a very important progression for Kuzma.

“Even though I wasn’t so high on Ingram I thought his potential and Lonzo was greater than his. I thought he looked better last year because he was older.

“But the way he has grown his game – and he’s having this year despite shooting well below what he will shoot from three-point range in his career! He will be better at that.

“Right now he’s been critical for the Lakers being able to tread water without LeBron.”

The Lakers return against the Utah Jazz (Friday 7pm PST/Saturday 3am UK time) as they seek to improve their 23-19 record, which sees them sat eighth in the Western Conference.

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