Rui Hachimura made a statement on the court Saturday night as he scored 30 points to match his career high for the second time in the past month. After the game, he made an even bigger statement with just two words.
The Wizards are exploring trade options for the fourth-year forward, according to multiple people familiar with the situation, a development informed for the first time by Atlético on Wednesday.
Standing in a hallway at Capital One Arena after a lopsided victory over the Orlando Magic, Hachimura expressed his dissatisfaction with his position in the team. When asked if he thinks he’ll be traded, he said: “I guess. I dont know.”
“I just want to be in a place that loves me as a basketball player,” he continued. “And I want to be somewhere that loves my… likes my game, you know? … I just want to be somewhere that trusts, believes in me. I can only be myself, that’s my goal.”
the magicians drafted Hachimura 9th overall in 2019 and started him in all 48 games he played in his rookie year, which was shortened by injuries. He is averaging 13 points in his fourth year, down from his career-high 13.8 in his second season, while coming on as a backup to second-year coach Wes Unseld Jr., whose Wizards are 20-years. 26.
On Saturday, the 24-year-old Hachimura described his season as “up and down.” Started on a High Note – Came Refreshed After Missing the first half of the 2021-22 season for a mental health break and then played a starring role during a two-game preseason exhibition in his native Japan, where the Wizards faced off against the Golden State Warriors.
In late November, a sprained ankle and bruised bone kept him out of action for a month; he missed 16 games. However, since his return on December 22, Hachimura has been a spark plug off the bench. Both of his 30-point performances have come in that span.
“There have been ups and downs, I feel like as a team,” Hachimura said Saturday when asked to describe his season. “Even for me, I had an injury and had to be away for like a month. … It took a lot for me to come back from the injury and all that. I dont know. I think we have good pieces, you know, but somehow, someone has to put it all together. … Culture, you know? I feel like that’s all I can say. It’s hard. For all of us, it’s not the place we want to be. But I think it’s going to be okay.”
Hachimura isn’t the only Wizards player whose future is cloudy.
Washington has a difficult and expensive task ahead of it to retain its main trio of center Kristaps Porzingis, forward Kyle Kuzma and guard Bradley Beal. Porzingis has a $36 million player option for next season, and Kuzma has said he plans to explore free agency..
Washington has signaled to other teams that it would like to keep Kuzma, according to several people familiar with his plans, but paying him market value could bring the Wizards closer to the luxury tax. Owner Ted Leonsis has paid the luxury tax only once since he took full ownership of the team in 2010.
Moving Hachimura would solve at least one problem for the Wizards: their bottleneck at forward with Hachimura and Deni Avdija, the ninth pick in the 2020 draft, competing for minutes. Washington fields a starting lineup that features Kuzma at forward and Porzingis at power forward, Hachimura’s natural position.
“[Porzingis] playing more minutes in [power forward] It kind of knocks everyone down,” Unseld said Saturday when asked about the traffic jam. “Deni doesn’t have too many minutes in the four, he minimizes Kuz’s minutes in the four. So I can see where some of those guys feel a little tight, but now that we’ve recovered, that’s who we need right now, we’re going to call that person.”
That Washington is exploring trades, and that Hachimura doesn’t seem to oppose one, comes as no surprise to either side. They did not reach an agreement on a rookie contract extension this fall.
The Wizards’ desire to woo the Japanese fan base that Hachimura brought with him when he entered the NBA has also seemingly waned. Leonsis did not make the preseason trip to Japan, where Hachimura took on the role of fan-favorite and cultural tour guide. (Leonsis has been a candidate for months to buy a substantial stake in the Washington Nationals.) In addition, Monumental Sports did not have a sponsorship deal with Tokyo-based NEC Corporation this season, as the company did in Hachimura’s first three years.
When asked about his mindset amid the trade rumors, Hachimura said that all he can do is believe in himself. The deadline for changes is February 2. 9.
“I just have to play my game, you know? I know what I can do: I can help the team win, whether it’s here or [for] other teams,” he said. “…So I have to stay focused on the moment right now. I know everything that’s going on right now, but I just have to play the games and be myself.”