We’ve been waiting for NBA trade deadline season to have its official start, and we’re finally getting it roughly two and a half weeks before the Feb. 9 deadline. The Lakers and Wizards are making the first move, with 2019 top-10 pick Rui Hachimura heading to L.A. in exchange for Kendrick Nunn and multiple second-round picks.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) January 23, 2023
The Lakers are upgrading the forward position, and the Wizards are punting on a lottery pick. Is there a clear-cut winner or loser? Let’s break out the red pen and throw down some trade grades:
Lakers acquiring Rui Hachimura
The Lakers are undoubtedly upgrading their roster with this move. Nunn has never been a real factor for them, and Hachimura’s talent is superior. But there are a few questions that pop up about this deal.
Is this a greater position of need for the Lakers? The Anthony Davis health concerns will always make this a position of need. Having Thomas Bryant back and thriving means Davis can play more at the four to preserve his body when he’s back, and there is history/familiarity with Bryant and Hachimura (former teammates) playing alongside each other. It wasn’t necessarily a lucrative pairing for the Wizards, but it wasn’t that bad after Hachimura’s rookie season (roughly minus-1.2 per 100 possessions).
The Lakers have played a lot of Wenyen Gabriel (in decent minutes) and Juan Toscano-Anderson at the four. Replacing those minutes with Hachimura is an upgrade. As long as he’s healthy. He’s missed 95 games in his three-and-a-half seasons in the NBA. If you’re able to play him next to LeBron James and Davis at the same time, that’s a potentially good trio of forwards on offense.
Is Hachimura actually good? This is the real question. How much does he bring to the table? We know he can score because that’s what he does. Hachimura is just under 17 points per 36 minutes for his career. He’s a good free-throw shooter, makes shots around the rim and can knock down a midrange jumper. He flashed a highly improved 3-point shot last season, but his other three seasons beyond the arc have been mediocre. He’s not much of a defender, but if he can help get this team from 19th in offense to somewhere in the upper half of the league, that’ll be a nice pickup.
Have the Lakers backed themselves into a corner of needing to re-sign him? The Lakers have a bunch of second-round picks to move, so it’s not like they’re completely bare when it comes to that area of the trade-asset pantry. The Chicago 2023 pick could land in the 31-45 range pretty easily, as could any of the Lakers’ future picks being conveyed here. While some people may scoff at second-round picks (and they have been overvalued a bit publicly over the last decade) as something valuable, they can be meaningful for a couple of reasons.
For starters, you could draft a significant contributor on the super cheap. (Think Draymond Green as best-case scenario because the Nikola Jokić thing isn’t happening again. OK, the Draymond thing probably won’t happen again either.) Also, you can include them in deals. Yes, they included some seconds in a deal here, but you’d probably like to dangle those in a more meaningful trade.
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By giving up three assets of varying degrees of potential value, the Lakers are saying they’re willing to give up some level of assets and future for Hachimura. It makes me believe they are planning to re-sign him this summer, when he can be a restricted free agent. His qualifying offer will be around $8.4 million, and who knows what he’s expecting to receive in restricted free agency? Losing out on three future second-round picks isn’t a massive loss if he were to leave, and they do have some control, but this feels like they’re just hoping their “program” is the one that unlocks Hachimura’s potential.
Whatever that next contract is will ultimately determine how we feel about this deal down the road.
Wizards acquiring Kendrick Nunn, three second-round picks
The writing was on the wall when the Wizards couldn’t come to an agreement with Hachimura on a contract extension last fall. When Kyle Kuzma continued to solidify his position on the team and eat up a ton of minutes with his excellent play, it became obvious Hachimura was going to struggle to find a role. And when the team found some success with the unexpected pairing of Kristaps Porziņģis and Daniel Gafford on the floor together, there was no point in keeping Hachimura around to watch him walk away this summer.
If the Wizards did not think a qualifying offer or re-sign of Hachimura was still possible, ridding themselves of that roster hold now helps them focus more on what their priority should be — re-signing Kuzma. He’s going to command a big salary, and the Wizards have as much control and influence as a team can when trying to bring back a role player for whom you have Bird rights in unrestricted free agency. The Wizards aren’t exactly penny-pinching here, but removing this Hachimura option makes it all the more clear what they’re intending to do this summer.
In the process of removing a logjam, the Wizards are acquiring three second-round picks. Yes, they missed on the Hachimura selection, and while you can’t replace a ninth pick with a first-round pick, grabbing three second-rounders is a pretty decent haul.
Nunn is an expiring deal, and perhaps he could provide some decent depth at the guard position this season and in the future. But they could lose him this summer and feel good about getting second-round picks from a team that right now doesn’t project to make those later in the draft any time soon.
(Photo of Rui Hachimura: Tommy Gilligan / USA Today)