Rui Hachimura is an important piece of the Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason puzzle, and the forward recently said he is entering his upcoming free agency looking for a place he can be happy.
“The reason why I requested the trade is that I wanted to be somewhere I could be happy and play basketball, that liked me as a basketball player, that believed in me, and the Lakers were one of the teams that was really interested in me,” he said. “My agent and the team did a good job, and I went to the Lakers, and it was a crazy season for me. … Back at that time, we didn’t even know we were going to make the playoffs. So, we made the playoffs, and the playoff run was pretty good. We lost to Denver, but it was pretty good for us. I don’t know my future, but I just want to be somewhere I can be happy. The Lakers have been good, and we’re going to see.”
The Lakers reportedly want to keep Hachimura and plan to match any offer he may receive as a restricted free agent. His somewhat noncommittal comments about the team may be more of a negotiating tactic in search of a larger contract than a true reflection of what he’d prefer.
LeBron James presumably would like Hachimura to return, with the superstar speaking very highly of his teammate during the 2022-23 season. James hinted at retirement after the Western Conference Finals, but a roster he is comfortable with would help his quest for another NBA championship if he returns to play next season as expected.
Rumors of a James reunion with Kyrie Irving have ignited lately. If the Lakers were to sign Irving, they’d likely need to lose Hachimura, according to a report.
Hachimura was acquired by the Lakers in a trade with the Washington Wizards this season. His play helped Los Angeles reach the playoffs and advance once it got there.
Once he made his Lakers debut on Jan. 25, the team went 21-13 in the regular season and had playoff series victories over the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors, after winning a play-in game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Gonzaga University product from Japan averaged 9.6 points per game in 33 regular season appearances with the Lakers, and he went on to average 12.2 points per game in the playoffs. His playing time also increased by almost two minutes per game.
The Lakers’ season ended with a disappointing sweep by the Denver Nuggets in the conference finals, but their success in getting there showed that Los Angeles may have a championship window on its hands. Keeping Hachimura could go a long way in maintaining the chemistry successful teams need.