Lakers’ acquisition of Rui Hachimura could limit free-agent flexibility

The Los Angeles Lakers traded Kendrick Nunn and three second-round draft picks to the Washington Wizards for forward Rui Hachimura in a deal Monday that will certainly bolster the Lakers now, but also limit the franchise’s flexibility later, particularly any starry ideas for this upcoming free agency.

The Lakers were exploring options for what Nunn and two second-rounders could have netted Los Angeles to supplement LeBron James’ stellar play this season, sources said, and that included New York Knicks swingman Cam Reddish.

Washington officials believed Hachimura, selected by the Wizards at No. 9 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft out of Gonzaga, commanded greater value, sources said. And over Sunday and Monday, the Lakers and Wizards began a viable dialogue that led to the final trade package.

In what marks the first deal of this unofficial NBA trade season, perhaps this swap will spark some movement across the market. Washington had told several teams it sought a first-round pick for Hachimura, sources said. Will other front offices with high asking prices eventually drop their demands as well? The Pistons are seeking first-round capital at minimum for Bojan Bogdanovic just like the Rockets are seeking a first-round pick for Eric Gordon, sources said. But there are plenty of buyers willing to part with multiple second-rounders, like the Bucks’ efforts to turn Grayson Allen and seconds into a postseason upgrade for Milwaukee.

Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura (8) in action during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, in Washington. The Knicks won 112-108. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Rui Hachimura gives the Lakers a young player with promise, but it comes at a cost. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

For the Lakers, the fourth-year forward adds frontcourt reinforcement as a career 35.6% 3-point shooter. Hachimura also offers some additional upside in shot creation off the dribble for a team lacking an obvious table-setting point guard — not to mention a young player with upside who has been few and far between for this Los Angeles roster in recent seasons.

Hachimura will be a restricted free agent come season’s end, as opposed to Nunn’s unrestricted free agency, and that dynamic will add an interesting wrinkle to Los Angeles’ offseason plans, depending on Hachimura’s performance down the stretch of this 2022-23 campaign.

The Lakers don’t make this deal without the intention of re-signing Hachimura this summer. While second-round picks hold varying valuations depending on front office opinions, sending out three to acquire Hachimura and obtain his Bird rights is a significant price considering his $18.8 million salary cap hold. Los Angeles could clear just north of $30 million in space if the Lakers were to renounce Hachimura and other players’ rights, but the team is expected to also look to retain combo guard Austin Reaves. A dream scenario of signing or trading for a max-contract-level player just got a whole lot trickier.

Adding Hachimura now, and his subsequent cap hold this summer, can effectively limit the Lakers to under $15 million in room when the offseason commences on June 30, depending where the Pelicans’ first-round pick lands in Los Angeles’ swap with New Orleans, thanks to the 2019 Anthony Davis trade. At present, Hachimura is expected to command a salary of roughly $10 million — around the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. But what if he emerges as the Lakers’ clear third-best player beyond James and Davis, shows out in Los Angeles’ hopeful playoff push and starts to stretch his value closer to the $20 million average annual salary that every player worth something above mid-level money seems to be seeking?

The Wizards had no intention of rewarding Hachimura that type of money, and this trade says as much about Washington’s goal of re-signing forward Kyle Kuzma as anything else. The Wizards have told inquiring teams, such as the Hawks and Suns, that Kuzma is not available for trade, sources said, despite his objective to decline next season’s player option and test the open market.

There will be at least one more Washington move before the deadline, even if Kuzma stays put. The Wizards are expected to reward backup point guard Jordan Goodwin with a standard NBA contract, sources said, before he reaches the 50-game limit for two-way players, and center Vernon Carey Jr. is a trade candidate to keep an eye on. Rival executives also are monitoring veteran guard Will Barton as a potential post-trade-deadline buyout candidate, sources said.

The three second-rounders en route to Washington are headlined by the Chicago Bulls’ 2023 second-round selection, which the Wizards are certainly hoping lands between pick Nos. 30-40, where teams often find players still available but graded by their scouting departments as having first-round value. The selection had actually been in Washington’s possession previously by way of 2019 deals with the Bulls that sent Otto Porter Jr. to Chicago and a separate sign-and-trade with Tomas Satoransky.

The Wizards will also receive a 2029 second-round pick from the Lakers plus the less favorable of the Lakers’ 2028 second or Washington’s own 2028 second.