On Friday night, after his Lakers had narrowly eked out a one-point win over the Memphis Grizzlies, LeBron James sighed deeply when asked about the whopping 39 second-chance points they had allowed – and had to overcome.
“I mean they have nine guys that are over 6-8, 6-9,” James said of the Grizzlies. “I think we’re playing with like three or four right now.”
All season, the Lakers have played at a size disadvantage, and injuries have only sapped length from their lineup. But on Monday, the front office made a long-awaited move for 6-foot-8 forward Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards – giving the roster a needed boost at a critical position, and signaling the franchise’s willingness to spend resources to win now on their 22-25 squad fighting for playoff positioning.
The deal, first reported by ESPN, will send Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks for Hachimura, the No. 9 overall pick out of Gonzaga in 2019. A person with knowledge of the deal confirmed it to Southern California News Group.
Over four seasons with the Wizards, the forward averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds – he played alongside current Lakers Russell Westbrook and Thomas Bryant during his tenure.
But whereas Hachimura was once viewed as a key piece in Washington, his star had been fading since the arrival of former Laker Kyle Kuzma, who has taken over as the leading front court force. The 24-year-old recently declined to confirm or deny whether he had requested a trade.
“I just want to be somewhere that wants me as a basketball player,” he told The Washington Post on Saturday. “And I want to be somewhere that loves my — likes my game, you know? … I just want to be somewhere that trusts, believes in me. Just I can be myself — that’s my goal.”
Born in Japan, Hachimura’s career has been caught in the unique spotlight of stardom across the Pacific Ocean in addition to the pressures of the NBA. Hachimura is the star of the Japanese national team – he was one of the flag-bearers for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. His stature in Japan was among the reasons Hachimura took a mental health break from the team in the first half 2021-2022 season.
Hachimura’s availability might be his biggest question mark as a player: He’s never been in more than 57 games in an NBA season, and last season he played only 42. But Hachimura may wind up being a bargain for the Lakers based on his age and lottery pick draft pick potential. The Lakers are one of a few teams expected to have cap space this summer, and they could well sign an extension for Hachimura below his cap space hold of nearly $19 million.
This season Hachimura has played in 30 games, all as a reserve and averaged 13 points and 4.3 rebounds. His 3-point shooting has been stuck at 33.7%, but last season he shot 44.7% from beyond the arc on roughly the same number of attempts per game (he’s a career 35.6% shooter from three).
In Nunn, the Lakers ship out one of their cadre of small guards who saw the court far less than hoped. He missed the entire 2021-22 season with a bone bruise in his right knee after the Lakers felt they had snatched a steal by signing him at the midlevel exception in free agency. This season, Nunn found himself often clawing for a role between the rotation that includes Westbrook, Dennis Schröder, Patrick Beverley, Austin Reaves and Max Christie.
Multiple media reports said the Lakers would send a 2023 second-round pick from Chicago, their own 2029 second-round pick, and the less favorable of either Washington or L.A.’s 2028 second-round picks.
The team still has capital to make additional trades if they choose, including both their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks.
The Lakers stand at 12th place as of Monday morning, but are just one game back in the standings from a play-in spot, and just two games behind the sixth-place Clippers, Tuesday’s opponent, in the crowded Western picture. The team is hoping for a prompt return from injured center Anthony Davis as soon as this week to boost its ambitions for the final stretch of the season.