HomeSportsKyle Kuzma and Jordan Poole ready to lead 'reshaping' Wizards

Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Poole ready to lead ‘reshaping’ Wizards

LAS VEGAS — The Washington Wizards traded Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis during a summer of major change, but the organization’s new front office made two significant financial investments that averted a full-fledged rebuilding effort.

First, Washington acquired guard Jordan Poole and his four-year, $128 million contract in a draft-day trade with the Golden State Warriors. Then, they re-signed forward Kyle Kuzma to a four-year, $102 million contract once free agency opened June 30.

While Kuzma and Poole don’t boast all-star credentials like Beal and Porzingis, they are approaching their prime years and have played significant roles on championship teams. As Washington proceeds through what probably will be a multiyear process to construct a serious playoff team, the 27-year-old Kuzma and 24-year-old Poole will be cast as its go-to scorers and leadership voices.

“We’re reshaping,” Wizards General Manager Will Dawkins said of his organization’s busy offseason. “When you’re able to retain a player like Kuzma and add guards like Tyus [Jones] and Jordan, I think you’re just reshaping because those guys are ready to play.”

Kuzma and Poole, who met with media members Saturday before watching the Wizards open their summer league slate against the Indiana Pacers, share ties to Michigan: Kuzma is a Flint native, and Poole played for the University of Michigan. They are also both eager for expanded responsibilities. Kuzma launched his career as an auxiliary option for the Los Angeles Lakers alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, while Poole spent most of his four-year Warriors tenure backing up Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“Being in D.C. for the last two years, I really fell in love with the city,” said Kuzma, who averaged a career-high 21.2 points last season. “Now that [my contract is] all signed, sealed and delivered, it feels amazing. Everyone knows I’m a very ambitious person. Having this opportunity to lead this organization and lead a bunch of young guys is something I can do at a high level. I’m just very excited to build.”

Kuzma recommitted to the Wizards shortly after Beal was sent to the Phoenix Suns and Porzingis was dealt to the Boston Celtics in separate trades. Despite the heavy roster turnover under new team president Michael Winger and Dawkins, Kuzma said he remained “open-minded” by the process and was swayed by owner Ted Leonsis’s new-look front office.

Michael Winger loves to build. He’ll get his chance with the Wizards.

“This is a business. People come and go. Jobs flip or whatever,” Kuzma said. “I love what Ted did from the standpoint of his hires. He did a phenomenal job of dissecting what he wanted Monumental Sports to be. He’s got guys who know what they’re doing. That’s obviously appealing to me. I’m a professional person, and they’re very professional people.”

Poole arrives in Washington after a challenging 2022-23 campaign with the Warriors, whose turbulent title defense ended with a second-round playoff exit against the Lakers. During Golden State’s training camp, forward Draymond Green punched Poole, and video of the incident leaked publicly. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said fallout from the punch lingered for the entire season, and Poole saw his minutes cut dramatically in the playoffs as he shot the ball poorly and struggled with turnovers.

This summer, the Warriors re-signed Green to a four-year, $100 million contract and traded Poole to the Wizards for guard Chris Paul, who is on an expiring contract. Curry saluted Poole with an online video message, praising the young guard’s determination through early-career injuries and stints in the G League.

“Us winning a championship your third year and us fighting to the end this past year, I can’t wait to see you blossom,” Curry said. “I can’t wait to see you shine in your own situation.”

Poole tried to take the high road when asked about his Warriors exit, dodging multiple questions about the incident with Green and whether he felt Golden State was forced to choose between the two players.

“I got a ring and was able to do some life-changing stuff,” Poole said. “I was able to learn a lot in my first four years in the league at a very high level, and I’m appreciative and thankful of that. You apply that to your new situation and new team. Being a leader comes with challenges.”

Kuzma and Poole said they were eager to play together, and Poole noted how Kuzma has evolved from being a sixth man in Los Angeles to a centerpiece in Washington. Kuzma said Poole brings an “exciting” style of play thanks to his ballhandling and scoring ability, adding that his new teammate “has many levels to go still” before he peaks.

“How he handled everything … with the professionalism and the character and the substance to get through that stuff, you want to be around someone like that,” Dawkins said of Poole.

The net results of Washington’s busy offseason are a less experienced roster, a more balanced payroll and a deeper cache of draft assets. Clearing Beal’s supermax contract and avoiding an expensive extension for Porzingis will give Winger and Dawkins greater flexibility next season and beyond.

Dawkins noted that Beal “made it easy” throughout their conversations about Washington’s future and the possibility of a trade, and he hailed the three-time all-star guard an “all-time Wizard.”

The eventual deal with Phoenix, which was Beal’s preferred destination, was “mutually beneficial,” the first-time general manager said. Though five days passed between Washington’s trade of Beal to Phoenix and its trade with Golden State for Poole, Dawkins said the moves were “interconnected.”

Parting with a longtime franchise player such as Beal will require short-term patience, and Dawkins said the organization wasn’t necessarily focused on getting back into the playoffs after missing out in four of the past five years.

“I try not to put a cap on any season,” Dawkins said. “Team goals will be less driven by winning and outcomes and more about style of play and competitiveness and how you’re evolving the game. Those will be my benchmarks.”

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