‘Forgotten’ Laker Rui Hachimura Gearing up for Free-Agent Payday: NBA Execs

Rui Hachimura (right), Lakers

Getty Rui Hachimura (right), Lakers

It has been easy to lose the move in the shuffle of all the Lakers did during the NBA’s trade-deadline season, but bear in mind the first major trade the Lakers made during the year was the deal that shipped out Kendrick Nunn and a pair of second-rounders to Washington for forward Rui Hachimura on January 23.

Hachimura’s start in L.A. was promising, with a 12-game stretch in which he scored 11.0 points in 26.1 minutes, including eight starts. But the warts in his game—the same problems that led the Wizards to gladly ship out a 24-year-old (he’s 25 now) who was the No. 9 pick in 2019—soon became apparent and as the Lakers brought in better young players via trade in the coming weeks, Hachimura’s role diminished.

In his last 15 games, Hachimura’s numbers dipped to 9.3 points per game in 19.9 minutes. And the problems the Lakers saw, namely, poor and inattentive defense combined with unreliable 3-point shooting, could have a severe impact on Hachimura’s postseason role.

On the flip side, Hachimura was a plus-20 in the play-in win over the Timberwolves.

“He is like the forgotten guy there, the move they made that you can overlook,” one Western Conference assistant coach told Heavy Sports. “I am not sure how much I would have him on the floor with a good, tight playoff rotation. Rui has gotten better in some ways. But you want LeBron (James), AD (Davis), D’Angelo Russell, (Austin) Reaves, they should be playing big minutes.”

Good thing, of course, that coach Darvin Ham did not agree–he played 29 minutes and topped the Lakers with 29 points in a scintillating Game 1 win.

There’s still a long way to go, but a showing like what we saw Sunday from Hachimura could have an impact on the team and the offseason, when Hachimura can be a free agent. No matter what happens in the postseason, execs around the NBA say the Lakers are expected to keep Hachimura aboard in hopes that the team can develop him as a scorer in ways Washington did not.

They won’t break the bank for Hachimura, of course, but neither will anyone else. One GM estimated a deal similar to the one Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signed with the Lakers in 2020—three years, $39 million, and texted on Sunday, “He is earning himself maybe even more in this game.”

“Every team thinks they can do something with a talent that another team did not do,” one Eastern Conference GM told Heavy. “The Lakers are no different. They will make an honest effort to re-sign him, from all I have heard. They have to. They want to keep as many of these young guys they got as they can, and at the least, they will have guys they can throw into trades down the line.”

Trae Young Rumors Crop Up Again

Another Lakers rumor that has long been bubbling, going back to when Trae Young dropped Octagon in the summer of 2020 and signed with Klutch Sports—the company that represents LeBron James and Anthony Davis—is that the Lakers have designs on making a run at Young.

As Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer reported, the Hawks could have a look at trading Young this summer.

One executive tells Heavy Sports, “They went out and got tradeable pieces. If the Hawks don’t make a move in the summer, the Lakers would be a possibility next season. It would take a lot, and things would have to align just right for that.  I also don’t buy that every guy who signs with Klutch is going to the Lakers, that is obviously not the case. But this is one they have been watching.”

Getting Young would likely have to wait until next year’s trade deadline, so that the Lakers could re-sign and later trade some of their young players. That could mean a package involving some combination of Russell (who is a free agent), Hachimura, Mo Bamba (potentially a free agent), Vanderbilt, and youngsters like Reaves and Max Christie. The Lakers, famously, are short on draft capital, but could part with their 2029 first-rounder in such a scenario.

While it might sound like a longshot for Young to wind up a Laker, don’t rule it out. “The Hawks could look into the market on Young, but the thing is, it is not going to be as strong as they’d like,” the executive said. “He has flaws, a lot of them, and they’ve sort of been exposed in the last couple of years. I am not sure how many real bidders Atlanta would get if they put him on the market, but it probably not as many as they think.”

Dillon Brooks vs. LeBron James: ‘Must-See TV’

Finally, back to the playoffs and the Lakers’ upcoming foe, the Grizzlies. One Eastern Conference coach says the player he is most interested in watching is Dillon Brooks, because he will have a big stage as the primary defender on LeBron James and is heading into free agency this summer.

Oh, and one more thing.

“He knows how to be a jack***,” the coach said. “Like, there is getting under another guy’s skin, that can be useful. Then there is just being unprofessional and Brooks walks that line. I like the guy, good scorer, intense defender and he does care about the game, about his team. You love that kind of player but you have got to keep it civil. He crosses the line.

“And you know, he is a free agent and all that. He acts like he wants to be Draymond Green and that’s fine but he is not Draymond Green and besides, Draymond Green has hurt himself and his team with his antics. So, like, don’t emulate him, or at least not the worst parts of him, you know? It can only hurt him when he sits down to get a contract somewhere.”

The coach said he is looking forward to how James deals with Brooks, who led the league in technical fouls this season (18).

“LeBron has chewed up much better players than Brooks before,” the coach said. “But LeBron has never been this old before, trying to do that. It will be must-see TV.”



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