While Kuzma and Poole don’t boast the all-star credentials of Beal and Porzingis, they are approaching their prime years and have played significant roles on championship teams. As Washington continues through what will likely be a multi-year process to build a serious playoff team, the 27-year-old Kuzma and 24-year-old Poole will be cast as their 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 keep a player like Kuzma and add guards like Tyus [Jones] and Jordan, I think you just remodel because those guys are ready to play.”
Kuzma and Poole, who met with members of the media 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 a backup 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 DC 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 great. Everyone knows that I am a very ambitious person. To have 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 really 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 turnover under new team president Michael Winger and Dawkins, Kuzma said he remained “open-minded” about the process and was influenced by owner Ted Leonsis’ new-look front office.
Michael Winger loves to build. He gets 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 his hiring standpoint. He did a phenomenal job of dissecting what he wanted Monumental Sports to be. He’s got guys who know what they’re doing. It obviously appeals to me. I am a professional person and they are 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 the fallout from the hit lingered throughout the 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 greeted Poole with an online video message, praising the young guard’s determination through early-career injuries and a stint in the G League.
“Winning a championship your third year and us fighting to the end the last 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 several 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 things,” Poole said. “I was able to learn a lot in my first four years in the league at a very high level and for that I am thankful and grateful. You apply it 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 ball handling and scoring ability, adding that his new teammate “has a lot of levels to go quietly” before he peaks.
“The way he handled everything … with the professionalism and character and substance to get through the things 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 draft cache. 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” through their conversations about Washington’s future and the possibility of a trade, and he hailed the three-time all-star guard as an “all-time Wizard.”
The eventual deal with Phoenix, which was Beal’s preferred destination, was “mutually beneficial,” the first-time general manager said. Although five days passed between Washington’s trade of Beal to Phoenix and its trade with Golden State for Poole, Dawkins said the moves were “contiguous.”
Parting ways with a longtime franchise player like Beal will require short-term patience, and Dawkins said the organization wasn’t necessarily focused on getting back to the playoffs after missing four of the past five years.
“I’m not trying to put a cap on any season,” Dawkins said. “The team’s goals will be less driven by winning and results and more about style of play and competitiveness and how you develop the game. Those will be my benchmarks.”