James, Kuzma con­nect on court for Los An­ge­les

The Fresno Bee - - Sports - BY TA­NIA GANGULI

Last sea­son, months af­ter he had din­ner with Kobe Bryant, Kyle Kuzma set his sights on an­other su­per­star. He wanted to ask Le­Bron James how James’ body has lasted so long in the NBA. So he asked his man­ager, Vin Spara­cio, to help him.

“He can reach the pres­i­dent prob­a­bly,” Kuzma said.

Hav­ing re­ceived the mes­sage, James passed along his num­ber. Kuzma then texted James for some ad­vice and James re­sponded later that day. It was a short but mean­ing­ful in­ter­ac­tion and they didn’t speak again un­til July, but Kuzma kept that num­ber just in case he ever needed it again.

He did a few months later. This sea­son, Kuzma can ask James any ques­tion he wants any time he wants. The two have de­vel­oped a rap­port that trans­lates to the court. James has come to love play­ing with Kuzma, and they com­ple­ment each other in ways oth­ers don’t.

“I mean I kind of al­ways knew that we’d play well to­gether just be­cause of the sim­ple fact that I’m not an on-ball player,” Kuzma said. “I’m more off ball, catch and go, spot-ups, cutting. He’s pri­mar­ily an on­ball dom­i­nant player. He has the ball, he sees the floor. It’s re­ally just my job to be open.”

In this young Lak­ers sea­son, the duo of Kuzma and James has seen more play­ing time to­gether than any other pair. They’ve been on the court to­gether for 275 min­utes. Sec­ond

‘‘ I HAVE AN OPEN-DOOR POL­ICY AS FAR AS YOUNG GUYS WANT TO THINK THE GAME BET­TER, PLAY THE GAME BET­TER, HOW THEY CAN DO THIS, DO THAT. Le­Bron James

on that list is Kuzma and Lonzo Ball (260 min­utes) and third JaVale McGee and James (244 min­utes).

Most of James’ as­sists have gone to Kuzma, too.

The start­ing lineup the Lak­ers are us­ing now is un­ortho­dox, but it al­lows James and Kuzma to play to­gether, while keeping the ver­sa­tile Bran­don In­gram on the court. It’s a lineup that in­cludes Kuzma at the power for­ward spot.

“I think he nat­u­rally finds open­ings more from the ‘4’ but he also, go­ing back to last sea­son, he found a lot of suc­cess at the ‘3’ spot,” Lak­ers coach Luke Wal­ton said. “So he’s fig­ured some of that out as far as ball­han­dling and be­ing able to at­tack from a wing spot, but for most of his ca­reer I think he nat­u­rally finds scor­ing from that ‘4’ spot.”

Kuzma still asks James for ad­vice – that’s some­thing he’s never shied away from.

And James likes to be a men­tor to younger play­ers – if they ask for it.

“I have an open-door pol­icy as far as young guys want to think the game bet­ter, play the game bet­ter, how they can do this, do that,” James said.

Hav­ing been alerted that Kuzma was plan­ning to call, James wel­comed it.

“I can’t give you ex­actly what we talked about,” James said. “I won’t talk about that. But I’ve al­ways had the open-door pol­icy.”

James and Bryant are the only two vet­er­ans Kuzma sought ad­vice from as he tried to learn how to be an NBA player.

That both were so will­ing speaks as much to their es­teem for Kuzma as any­thing else.

It’s nat­u­ral for Kuzma to have grav­i­tated to­ward them. Those were the play­ers he mim­icked as a lit­tle boy play­ing bas­ket­ball. He’d lower the hoop to dunk like Le­Bron. He’d end pickup games with Bryant-like fade­aways.

“Le­Bron and Kobe,” Kuzma said, chuck­ling re­cently. “I don’t think there’s no­body else I need to reach out to. Those are the best two peo­ple.”

When James agreed to be­come a Laker this sum­mer, that phone num­ber Kuzma saved came in handy. James was on his way to Europe and his phone buzzed with a Face­Time call. It was Kuzma – the first of any of his new team­mates to con­tact him.

“He was very, very ex­cited,” James said. “I was ac­tu­ally on the plane on my way to va­ca­tion ac­tu­ally. I couldn’t be on the phone too long. He was ex­cited, I was ex­cited and we still are ex­cited.”

MAR­CIO JOSE SANCHEZ AP

The Lak­ers’ Kyle Kuzma (0) says Le­Bron James, right, is one of only two NBA play­ers he has sought out for ad­vice. Kobe Bryant was the first. Kuzma and James com­ple­ment each other on the bas­ket­ball court in ways oth­ers don’t.

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