In finalizing a trade for Rui Hachimura, the Los Angeles Lakers are making a long-awaited upgrade on the wing — both for this season and potentially the future.
After months of deliberation over finding the right player and deal, the Lakers opportunistically struck on Hachimura, the No. 9 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft who had become increasingly unhappy with his lack of a contract extension and decreased role this season with the Washington Wizards, league sources confirmed to The Athletic. The Lakers shipped Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks to Washington, the teams announced on Monday.
The Lakers and Wizards discussed the deal for several days with draft compensation being the primary haggling point, according to league sources. The Athletic reported last week that Washington was exploring potential trade destinations for Hachimura.
The soon-to-be 25-year-old Hachimura has the size (6 foot 8, 230 pounds), length (7-foot-2 wingspan) and athleticism that the Lakers desperately need in the frontcourt. His ability to play either forward spot helps balance the roster’s positional structure. It’s unclear if Hachimura will start on Day 1, but the expectation is that he will start next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis once the rotation settles, multiple team sources told The Athletic.
Hachimura’s acquisition does not preclude the Lakers from making another trade before Feb. 9. They enter the next two-plus weeks armed with two first-round picks (2027 and ’29) and three players (Patrick Beverley, Lonnie Walker IV and Russell Westbrook) they could use as matching salaries when upgrading the roster.
With Davis set to return soon, the Lakers are further evaluating the roster and rotation and still determining if they want to make a minor or major upgrade with their tradeable draft assets. At this point, their most likely move would be trading Beverley and a lottery-protected first-round pick for another wing or frontcourt upgrade. But the Lakers are willing to consider adding more assets to get a better player, depending on Davis’ recovery and the state of the market as the deadline nears.
Detroit’s Bojan Bogdanović continues to be the name most often tied to the Lakers in league circles, but the Pistons are looking for an unprotected first-round pick, at a minimum, in a potential trade, according to league sources. The Lakers’ preference is to only give up a lottery-protected first for the 34-year-old Bogdanović, though that could change when up against the trade-deadline clock.
No matter what happens next, the Hachimura trade is an undisputed win for Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka and the rest of the front office.
The Lakers alleviated their backcourt jam, dumping their least productive guard for the minor cost of three second-round picks, one of which (2028) is a swap on a pick they originally owned. In turn, they got younger, bigger, longer, more athletic and more talented in landing Hachimura, who they can retain for multiple seasons. They showed that they’re willing to take on more money — their luxury tax bill increased by nearly $3 million after the deal — for a team that’s currently 22-25 this season but has shown its potential by going 10-9 with Davis out with a right foot injury.
Internally, Los Angeles is high on Hachimura, believing he has untapped potential that he wasn’t able to show with the Wizards after they chose to prioritize Kyle Kuzma and Deni Avdija. The Lakers are interested in retaining Hachimura and currently expect to re-sign the restricted free agent this offseason, league sources told The Athletic. According to those sources, Hachimura is expected to command a double-digit annual salary though much lower than his nearly $19 million cap hold.
In 30 games this season, Hachimura is averaging 13.0 points on 55.8 percent true shooting, along with 4.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game (he missed 16 games earlier in the season with a bone bruise in his right ankle). The Japanese native is shooting 33.7 percent on 3-point shots, a below-league-average figure, but he shot 44.7 percent from beyond the arc last season and 47.0 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s. That indicates he could shoot better in Los Angeles with James, Davis and Westbrook creating higher-percentage looks for him.
Hachimura fares well in most defensive metrics, ranging from an above-average defender (plus-0.3 in defensive RAPTOR) to a good defender (plus-0.9 in defensive EPM). The video shows a talented and physically gifted defender who can improve his effort, consistency and awareness. The Lakers are optimistic that playing in head coach Darvin Ham’s system and alongside veterans like Davis, James, Westbrook and Beverley will help bring out Hachimura’s unrealized defensive potential.
Durability is a bit of a concern, as Hachimura has never played more than 57 games in an NBA season — though that number is partially skewed by last season, when Hachimura, with the Wizards’ blessing, missed the first 39 games of the season to tend to his mental health.
At a minimum, Hachimura’s arrival, coupled with Nunn’s exit, will decrease the number of three-guard lineups the Lakers use, which will help on the defensive glass and against teams with multiple wing scorers. The Lakers have been at a size advantage in most games this season.
After allowing 39 second-chance points to the Memphis Grizzlies last Friday — the most a team had given up in over 25 years — James pointed out that they didn’t have as many 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9 players as the Grizzlies. It was not the first time he has voiced his displeasure with the roster’s lack of length and size this season.
“I think we’re playing with like three or four right now,” James said.
The Lakers have found chemistry with their current starting lineup of Thomas Bryant, James, Troy Brown Jr., Beverley and Dennis Schröder, but with three significant pieces expected back soon in Davis, Austin Reaves and Walker IV, this starting five was always going to be temporary.
A Davis-James-Hachimura frontline gives the Lakers a versatile trio with good size, length and athleticism. They’ll be able to switch across most matchups with Davis serving as by far the best defensive big man that Hachimura has played with in his four-year career.
Hachimura will slot in as the third or fourth offensive option in most lineups, though his career average of 16.9 points per 36 minutes ranks sixth on the roster behind James, Davis, Westbrook, Schröder and Bryant.
The cost for the Lakers is Nunn, who had been playing much better recently, but is the odd man out when the Lakers are at full strength. With Reaves and Walker IV returning soon, Nunn, 27, would have been the team’s sixth guard at best, penciled in behind Reaves, Schröder, Walker IV, Beverley and Westbrook. He struggled to make an impact and find a rhythm this season, connecting on just 32.5 percent of his 3s. Aside from Damian Jones, Nunn was the most expendable player on the Lakers’ 14-man roster.
Realistically, this was as good of a trade as the Lakers were going to find in exchange for Nunn and multiple second-round picks. They potentially found their starting forward of the future, depending on how Hachimura fits, the rest of their trade activity and how the free-agent market plays out this summer.
The 12th-place Lakers are just one game out of the No. 10 seed and two games back of the No. 6 seed. With James and Davis both playing like top-10 players this season, they loom as the potential lower-seeded opponent no one wants to face in a seven-game series — as long as they can get there.
This move helps them get closer. While it isn’t the type of blockbuster deal that could vault the Lakers into contention, it’s a step in the right direction for the Lakers with minimal downside.
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(Photo of LeBron James and Hachimura: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)