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The Los Angeles Lakers made another trade with the Washington Wizards on Monday, acquiring Rui Hachimura for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks. That’s the third deal between the two franchises in the Rob Pelinka era, dating back to the 2019 Anthony Davis trade and the 2021 Russell Westbrook blockbuster.
What did they do right and wrong in the Hachimura/Nunn exchange? What does it mean for the future of the franchise? Are the Lakers a contender? Will they make another move, or is this all for the season?
The Immediate Term
The Lakers hope to recover Davis from a foot injury within the next week. If he can successfully get back into shape and stay healthy, the door is open for more player moves before the February 9 trade deadline.
Any setback likely means foot surgery and the end of his season. So, the Lakers would naturally take a different approach without their All-Star forward/center, given a greatly reduced lead. Hachimura was an intermediate move that could help this year, but with an eye on what’s to come beyond 2022-23.
Hachimura is likely to be placed at forward alongside LeBron James. The matchup will determine who is technically No. 3 or No. 4, and that’s with a healthy Davis at center.
The Lakers have been trading with the New York Knicks for more than a year for forward Cam Reddish, and while that door isn’t quite closed, it’s unlikely. Instead, Hachimura is LA’s next “second draft” prospect, like Malik Monk last season and Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr. this season.
The hope is that Hachimura would have an untapped lead in Washington, lost among a crowded wing ensemble with Kyle Kuzma, Deni Avdija and Cory Kispert. Hachimura’s game is somewhat similar to Kawhi Leonard’s as a midrange scorer, but he hasn’t reached those heights yet.
The raw material is there, and the franchise hopes that the coaching and entourage of James, Davis and Westbrook (Hachimura’s former teammate) will help bring out the best in the 24-year-old, 6’8″ forward.
by the deadline
If all goes well for the Lakers over the next two weeks, the front office can make any final decisions that need to be made before the deadline.
That includes Davis resuming a terrific individual season that was halted by a foot injury in December. The Lakers also need the help of the 11 teams that precede them in the standings. Even after a poor start to the year, LA is only 2.5 games behind the fifth-place Dallas Mavericks.
The Lakers have the wherewithal to take another half-measure or even participate with draft considerations, which include two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029) and four seconds. That could mean a minor deal that includes Patrick Beverley, Walker and, as needed, players in minimal deals. Or the Lakers could go big with Westbrook’s $47.1 million contract expiring.
The smaller version could be a player like Alec Burks of the Detroit Pistons or Buddy Hield of the Indiana Pacers. The middle could be Bojan Bogdanović, also with Detroit (presumably costing a first). None would involve Westbrook.
If Los Angeles decided to move Westbrook, that could lead to a multi-team deal with multiple picks and players, and at least one returning leading guard. That could involve the Lakers targeting players like the Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet or the Charlotte Hornets’ Terry Rozier, among others.
But the Lakers need to know that Davis is truly back and that a postseason run is possible.
beyond the season
The Lakers have been cautious about the team’s future beyond this season. The team is protecting salary-cap space, but then they’ve dealt with teams for players on multi-year deals, like the Pacers with Myles Turner (now apparently inactive) and Hield.
Although Hachimura is in the final year of his contract, the Lakers acquired him with the expectation of bringing him back. He will be a restricted free agent, taking up $18.8 million of the unsigned team’s potential cap space. With Hachimura, the projected room is reduced from just over 30 million dollars to about 13 million dollars.
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
The Lakers acquired Hachimura in a trade with the intent to sign him to an extension this summer, sources told ESPN. Hachimura may be a restricted free agent. https://t.co/TAdM1h8iAH
And Hachimura is believed to be seeking a contract in the range of his salary cap, so the Lakers aren’t likely to be a big player in the salary-cap market in July. With salaries for Westbrook and Beverley coming off the books and a raise for Austin Reaves, LA projects to have the non-contributing midlevel exception in the $11 million range and the biannual exception at around $4.4 million.
That’s to add new talent or, if necessary, to re-sign players like Dennis Schröder, Thomas Bryant and/or Walker, since the Lakers have no right to pay more than a 120 percent raise to stay (outside of Wenyen Gabriel and Reaves, who have Early Bird rights). Westbrook and Beverley can re-sign with full rights.
The Lakers don’t project to be much of a player in free agency with Hachimura, which should boost the motivation to trade in the coming weeks.
The problems with Hachimura’s trade
Generally speaking, second-round picks are throwaways. The Lakers weren’t getting production from Nunn on par with his $5.3 million salary value. They got a rising player in Hachimura with restricted rights. What’s not to like?
Beyond the opportunity cost of waiting to see what else might be available (Jae Crowder, Eric Gordon, Reddish, etc.), the Lakers still have similar contracts and second-round picks (plus cash) to offer if necessary. The overall Hachimura deal is a solid upside play.
Where it is poorly executed is in the specific second-round picks that are given out and the potential impact on the protection of 2027 and 2029 first-rounders if they are traded at the deadline or during the offseason.
As an example, look at the protections on first-round picks sent to the Phoenix Suns (Steve Nash) and Orlando Magic (Dwight Howard). Those protections and incredible lottery luck led to D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and De’Andre Hunter (for the Atlanta Hawks via the New Orleans Pelicans in the Davis trade).
Instead of sending additional picks in 2023, 2024 and 2025, including 2028 and 2029 doesn’t give the Lakers much to offer in the way of protection. For example, LA can no longer send its first 2029 on the condition that it broadcast it as a second 2029 if the first is in the top 10.
Picks can only be traded seven years from now, so 2030 isn’t on the table before the draft in June. The Lakers can still protect the first of 2027 with the second as consolation, but teams prefer two seconds over one in case the protections kick in, and 2028 is now out of the picture.
It won’t matter if the Lakers don’t trade their first, but it limits the options. It’s not enough to label Hachimura’s trade as a mistake. Still, it could produce complications, especially if, four to six years from now, the Lakers give up the No. 1 overall pick to get a (nearly) 34-year-old role player like Bogdanović.