LOS ANGELES — Rui Hachimura had no sooner arrived at his new home arena than the Lakers put him to work.
Moments after walking through the tunnel at Crypto.com Arena, Hachimura was in Lakers warm-up gear and on the court, going through drills with assistant coach Phil Handy and under the watchful gaze of his new head coach and new GM. But what stood out about the session even more than Hachimura sinking corner 3-pointers or swishing jumpers out of post-ups was his face: Hachimura beamed for almost the entire half-hour workout.
It was only days ago when the 24-year-old told The Washington Post that he wanted “to be somewhere that wants me as a basketball player.” He didn’t play on Tuesday night against the Clippers, but already he could feel it sinking in that he was with not only a team that needs a player like him but also in a place where he once dreamed of living.
“It’s so funny that when I was in college, I came here for college games and stuff, and I was joking around how this was gonna be my home,” Hachimura said. “So it’s great it’s really happening right now. So yeah, I’m so happy, and I’m so excited for this.”
The Lakers are excited, too. By getting Hachimura in a Monday trade, they added a 6-foot-8 forward and former top-10 draft pick who they kept a close eye on during his Gonzaga days and who they might be able to re-sign this summer. For a team in need of size, depth and youth, Hachimura checks a lot of boxes.
“He definitely fills a big void of giving us more size on the perimeter, a guy who can also guard bigger players in the post,” Coach Darvin Ham said after watching Hachimura’s pregame workout. “Just what he brings offensively, a guy that can create his own shot as well as fall into the system seamlessly.”
But, General Manager Rob Pelinka said during a Tuesday evening press conference, that doesn’t mean the Lakers will stand pat. While the Lakers pounced on an opportunity that Pelinka acknowledged was “a little bit slow” (the Lakers made only the second in-season trade in the league so far), the franchise is continuing to talk to other teams: “Doesn’t mean our work is finished,” he said.
The resources that loom the largest ahead of the Feb. 9 trade deadline are the Lakers’ two tradeable first-round picks in 2027 and 2029. Pelinka has indicated a willingness to use them publicly, but the Lakers have been reluctant to part with them without getting a true impact player in return.
The front office managed to get Hachimura with a package of Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks, keeping some of their powder dry for a bigger trade down the road. The Lakers also have contracts including Patrick Beverley ($13 million) and Lonnie Walker IV ($6.5 million) they could use to make deals before the deadline.
But Pelinka said before moving the first-round picks, the team wants to make a move that doesn’t just improve them, but makes them a legitimate contender, saying “there is no in-between.
“That’s a really delicate calculus and something, the entire front office, we evaluate with all the moves,” Pelinka added. “If we see a move that puts us as a frontrunner to get another championship here, the 18th one here, we’ll make it. And if that move doesn’t present itself, we’ll be smart and make it at a later time.”
If he’s able to make his Lakers debut Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs, Hachimura hopes to have an immediate impact. He’s played with three Lakers before during his time in Washington: Russell Westbrook, Thomas Bryant and Lonnie Walker IV. Alongside All-Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis (who hopes to return this week), he thinks he’ll fit right in.
“I think I can shoot the ball – threes, I can shoot midrange, I can attack the rim,” he said. “Even off the ball, cutting and stuff is good for me. I can get a rebound and push the ball and stuff, so I can do a lot of stuff. I think it’s going to be great.”
The Japanese-born Hachimura said he’s also attracted in part to the large L.A. market with a considerable population of Japanese ancestry. He’s also now just a nine-hour flight from his home country, where he’s a high-wattage star.
Pelinka hopes Hachimura falls in quickly.
“It’s expected by Darvin (Ham) and us that we’re competitive every night and I think one of the things with Rui is, if you look at the Gonzaga program and with the Wizards, he plays the game the right way,” Pelinka said. “And I think when he jumps into this flow of super competitive guys that are playing aggressively and physically every night, it’s going to bring also another level out of him.”