The Los Angeles Lakers haven’t been mentioned in every trade rumor this season, but it sure seems that way. Now, the Lakers are finally poised to push a deal across the finish line.
The Lakers will reportedly send Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Rui Hachimura. The deal is reportedly on course to be completed later in the day on Monday.
This isn’t the blockbuster that many were waiting on for the Lakers, but it’s still a good move that will help them immediately. That said, even this potentially small of a move can have major ramifications beyond just the final few months of the 2022-23 season.
Los Angeles Lakers
On the basketball side, Rui Hachimura is a great fit for Los Angeles. The Lakers only healthy forward with real size was LeBron James. He’s been taxed to some degree by having to play almost all of his minutes at power forward this season. Hachimura will give the Lakers some additional size in the frontcourt, and he can play alongside both James and Anthony Davis (when the latter gets healthy) in lineups that will be fairly sizable across the frontline.
On offense, Hachimura has settled into a complementary scoring role. He’s able to overpower smaller defenders, while using his quickness against bigger players. Hachimura has also developed a fairly reliable jumper over the years. He’s not much of a passer, but the Lakers should have covered. One continuing worrisome trend is that Hachimura is an inconsistent scorer. Just this past week, he’s gone for 16 points, 0 points and 30 points over a three-game stretch.
On defense, Hachimura doesn’t offer a ton. He’s best when guarding fours, but he can do ok against slower threes. He’s a solid enough rebounder, as his rebounding rates have generally remained consistent when adjusted for playing time. He’s not fixing any defensive issues the Lakers may have, minus some on the glass, but he’s also not taking anything off the table from their current mini-sized lineups either.
Essentially, Hachimura is being added as a flyer to bring a little size to the Lakers, along with some offensive punch to the frontcourt. Given the reasonable cost to acquire him, this is a very low-risk gamble by Los Angeles.
Kendrick Nunn was a consistent rotation player, but he’s part of a guard mix for the Lakers that runs five-deep beyond him when healthy. Swapping Nunn for Hachimura rebalances the rotation and should allow Darvin Ham to avoid relying on so many three- and sometimes four-guard lineups.
It’s on the cap sheet where this deal starts to get really interesting. Prior to this trade, the Lakers were looking at somewhere in the range of $30 to $35 million in cap space this summer. Reports are that LA wants to sign Hachimura to a new deal this summer, when the forward will be eligible for restricted free agency.
In order to do so, and to avoid another team swooping in, the Lakers will have to retain Hachimura’s $18.8 million cap hold. That hold, combined with the likely $2.2 million cap hold for pending restricted free agent Austin Reaves, will be enough to keep Los Angeles over the cap this summer.
That may seem confusing, but here’s how it works: The Lakers were projected to be at roughly $33 million in space before this deal. That was by wiping the books clean of all but the guaranteed salaries of James, Davis and Max Christie, while retaining a cap hold for Austin Reaves.
Now, you add $18.8 million for Hachimura and that space reduces to roughly $14 to $15 million. At that point, that space is less than the combined amount of the Non-Taxpayer Midlevel Exception and the Bi-Annual Exception. Add those against the space, and you have Los Angeles acting as an over-the-cap team in July.
But here’s how Rob Pelinka and the front office can still do some work in free agency beyond just using exceptions. Barring the most incredible final 30-game run the NBA has ever seen, Hachimura isn’t going to be anywhere near $18.8 million in Year 1 salary on his new deal. If the Lakers could sign him to a reasonable new deal, they could still have cap space to play with. (And it will be a new contract and not an extension. As he is wrapping up his rookie scale contract, Hachimura is no longer extension-eligible). Something around $10 million feels fair for Hachimura in Year 1 salary.
If the Lakers sign Hachimura to a deal that includes $10 million in Year 1 salary, they could then wipe away all the rest of their cap holds, minus Reaves’ $2.2 million. In that case, the Lakers would still have roughly $23.5 million to work with this summer, in addition to the $5.8 million room exception. That’s enough to start filling out the roster to build better depth around a core group that now includes James, Davis, Hachimura and Reaves.
It's easy to say “Now, the Lakers have to sign Hachimura to a new deal”, but this is still a low-risk flyer for the Lakers. If Hachimura works out, they can re-sign him to a reasonable new deal, as laid out above. If Hachimura doesn’t work out, the Lakers can renounce him and still have well over $30 million in cap space. The chance that Hachimura might pop is worth spending three second-rounders of capital on.
Last thing to note, Los Angeles will add almost $3 million to their luxury tax bill. The Lakers are only taking on just over $1 million in salary, but in terms of taxes and penalties, they’ll get hit with just shy of $3 million more on their tax bill.
The Wizards side of this deal is far easier to explain. When they didn’t ink Rui Hachimura to an extension, it signaled his days in DC might have been numbered. When Hachimura couldn’t fully break through in a crowded forward group, his time in Washington was fully up.
Before his recent injury, the Wizards had shifted Kristaps Porzingis back to playing at the 4. That allowed Washington to get Daniel Gafford back in the starting lineup. That’s important, because the Wizards have $40.2 million in fully guaranteed money invested in Gafford’s extension which starts next season.
Kyle Kuzma slides to the three in that alignment, but that pushed Deni Avdija to the bench. In that situation, you had Avdija, Hachimura and 2021 first-rounder Corey Kispert all competing for minutes behind Porzingis and Kuzma, who both play in the mid-30 minutes per night range.
Essentially, where there was once a logjam, there no longer is.
Nunn may see some time off the Wizards bench, but he was in this deal as salary ballast. Washington doesn’t really need him when the rest of their guards are healthy. The Wizards already aren’t playing veteran wing Will Barton, so it’s unlikely Nunn cracks the rotation. It’s more likely that Nunn and/or Barton could be moved elsewhere before the deadline. If not, keep an eye on both as buyout candidates.
The real get for Washington in this deal was freeing up that forward rotation and adding three second-round picks for a player they weren’t going to re-sign this summer. The Wizards got the Chicago Bulls second-round pick this summer. That’s likely to end being a middle of the second round selection, but there is some upside there, given Chicago’s inconsistency this season. Then they’ll get the worst of their own pick and the Lakers pick in 2028 and the Lakers pick in 2029. At worst, Washington keeps their own pick in 2028, but could get a potentially juicy selection that is several years out in 2029.
If nothing else, the Wizards now have some additional draft pick capital to work with in future trade offers. That’s good for a team that was a bit light in the future pick column, due to several past trades having not fulfilled all of their obligations just yet.
Last note for Washington: They dropped to about $1.3 million under the tax line. That’s good additional flexibility to have over the next two-and-a-half weeks before the trade deadline. Prior to this deal, the Wizards were a little too close to the tax line for comfort. They should now have enough wiggle room to even add a little bit of salary in any subsequent deal, while still avoiding the tax.