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What's Next for Los Angeles Lakers after Rui Hachimura Trade?

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusFeatured Columnist IJanuary 24, 2023

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 18: Rui Hachimura #8 of the Washington Wizards looks on during the third quarter of the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 18, 2023 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers made yet 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 Anthony Davis trade in 2019 and the Russell Westbrook blockbuster of 2021.

What did they get right and wrong in the Hachimura/Nunn swap? What does it mean for the future of the franchise? Are the Lakers a contender? Will they make another move, or is this it for the season?


The Immediate Term

The Lakers hope to get Davis back from a foot injury within the next week. If he can successfully return to form and stay healthy, the door opens for more player movement 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 diminished upside. Hachimura was an intermediate move that could help this year but with an eye on what's to come beyond 2022-23.

Hachimura will likely slot in at forward alongside LeBron James. Who is technically the 3 or 4 will be determined by matchup, and that's with Davis healthy at center.

The Lakers have negotiated with the New York Knicks for over a year on forward Cam Reddish, and while that door isn't entirely closed, it's unlikely. Instead, Hachimura is L.A.'s next "second draft" prospect, like Malik Monk last season and Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr. this campaign.

The hope is that Hachimura had an untapped upside in Washington, lost among a crowded set of wings 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 the coaches and the environment with James, Davis and Westbrook (Hachimura's former teammate) will help bring out the best in the 6'8", 24-year-old forward.

By the Deadline

If all goes well for the Lakers over the next two weeks, the front office can make whatever final decisions need to be made ahead of the deadline.

That includes Davis resuming a tremendous individual season that was halted by a foot injury in December. The Lakers also need help from the 11 teams ahead of them in the standings. Even after a poor start to the year, L.A. is only 2.5 games behind the fifth-place Dallas Mavericks.

The Lakers have the means to take another half-measure or even go all in with draft considerations, which include two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029) and four seconds. That could mean a minor deal including Patrick Beverley, Walker and, as needed, players on minimum deals. Or the Lakers could go huge with Westbrook's expiring $47.1 million contract.

The smaller version might be a player like Alec Burks of the Detroit Pistons or Buddy Hield of the Indiana Pacers. The medium could be Bojan Bogdanoviฤ‡, also with Detroit (presumably costing a first). Neither would involve Westbrook.

If Los Angeles did choose to move Westbrook, that could lead to a multi-team deal with multiple picks and playersโ€”and at least one lead guard coming back. That could involve the Lakers targeting players like Fred VanVleet of the Toronto Raptors or Terry Rozier of the Charlotte Hornets, among others.

But the Lakers need to know that Davis is genuinely back and that a postseason run is viable.


Beyond the Season

The Lakers have been cagey about the team's future beyond this season. The team is protecting cap space, but then they've negotiated with teams for players on multi-year deals, like the Pacers with Myles Turner (now seemingly dormant) and Hield.

While Hachimura is in the final year of his contract, the Lakers acquired him with the expectation of bringing him back. He'll be a restricted free agent, taking up $18.8 million of the team's potential cap space unsigned. With Hachimura, the projected room drops from just over $30 million to about $13 million.

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

The Lakers traded for Hachimura with the intention of signing him to an extension this summer, sources tell ESPN. Hachimura can be a restricted free agent. <a href="https://t.co/TAdM1h8iAH">https://t.co/TAdM1h8iAH</a>

And Hachimura is believed to be seeking a contract in the range of his cap hold, so the Lakers aren't likely to be a big player in the cap room market in July. With Westbrook and Beverley's salaries coming off the books and a raise coming to Austin Reaves, L.A. projects to have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception in the $11 million range and the bi-annual exception at about $4.4 million.

That's to add new talent or, if needed, to re-sign players like Dennis Schrรถder, Thomas Bryant and/or Walker since the Lakers don't have the right to pay any 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 a big player in free agency with Hachimura, which should bolster motivation to trade in the next few weeks.


The Issues with the Hachimura Trade

Generally speaking, second-round picks are disposable. The Lakers weren't getting production from Nunn on par with the value of his $5.3 million salary. They got an upside player in Hachimura with restricted rights. What's not to like?

Beyond the opportunity cost of waiting to see what else might come available (Jae Crowder, Eric Gordon, Reddish, etc.), the Lakers still have similar contracts and second-round picks (plus cash) to offer if needed. The overall Hachimura deal is a solid upside play.

Where it's poorly executed is in the specific second-round picks given up and the potential impact on protecting 2027 and 2029 firsts if traded at the deadline or over the offseason.

By way of example, look at 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 (by the Atlanta Hawks via the New Orleans Pelicans in the Davis swap).

Instead of sending out additional selections in 2023, 2024 and 2025, including 2028 and 2029 doesn't give the Lakers much recourse to offer by way of protection. For instance, L.A. can no longer send out its 2029 first on the condition it will convey as a 2029 second if the first is top 10.

Picks can only be traded seven years out, so 2030 isn't on the table before the draft in June. The Lakers can still protect the 2027 first with the second as consolation, but teams prefer two seconds over one should protections kick in, and 2028 is now out of circulation.

It won't matter if the Lakers don't trade their firsts, but it does limit options. It's not enough to label the Hachimura trade a mistake. Still, it could produce complications, especially if, four-to-six years down the road, the Lakers give up the No. 1 overall pick to get an (almost) 34-year-old role player like Bogdanoviฤ‡.