- The Washington Times
Sunday, January 22, 2023

Rui Hachimura raised his eyebrows, paused for several seconds and started to smile as he answered a question that had nothing to do with his career 30-point night. The Washington Wizards forward, in light of trade rumors that emerged days earlier, was asked if he wants to continue to be a member of the Washington Wizards

Does he want to be traded? 


“I don’t know,” Hachimura said laughing.

Does he think a trade will happen? 

“I guess,” he said with a smile. “I mean, I don’t know.”

Did he ask for a trade? 

“No comment,” he said, again smiling.  

It was fitting that Hachimura and Kyle Kuzma (25 points) were the Wizards’ leading scorers in Saturday’s 138-118 win over the Orlando Magic. After all, both forwards have been strongly linked in trade rumors ahead of next month’s Feb. 9 trade deadline — and both put on a show for any interested team watching from afar. 

Of the two, Hachimura appears the more likely to be moved. The Athletic reported last week that the Wizards have “begun trade talks with multiple teams” regarding the Japanese native, adding Hachimura has drawn interest from several Western Conference teams in need of scoring. The talks came months after Hachimura — the ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft — and Washington failed to agree on a contract extension in time for the league’s October deadline for rookie scale extensions. As such, Hachimura is on track to become a restricted free agent this summer. 

Hachimura seems like he wouldn’t mind a change of scenery.

“I just want to be somewhere that wants me as a basketball player,” Hachimura said. “I want to be somewhere that likes my game, you know? … I just want to be somewhere that trusts and believes in me.”

Asked whether he believes the Wizards want him — whether they trust and believe in himHachimura was again cagey.

“We’re going to find out,” he said. 

That the Wizards and Hachimura have arrived at this point would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago. When Washington drafted Hachimura, the Wizards embraced all that came with the 24-year-old’s Japanese heritage. The team launched a Japanese website, hired a Japanese correspondent to connect to the country’s fans and even partnered with a Tokyo-based company to sponsor Hachimura’s press conferences. (That sponsorship has since ended.)

But the on-court results matter. And there, Hachimura hasn’t developed in the manner that Washington’s executives might have hoped. Over the past two years, Hachimura has mostly come off the bench — including in all 30 of his games this season. In his fourth year, Hachimura has averaged 13 points in 24.3 minutes per game.  

He’s missed significant time, too. Last season, Hachmiura didn’t make his debut until the Wizards’ 40th game after a months-long absence due to “personal reasons.” This season, Hachimura missed 16 games because of an ankle injury. 

“A little bit of inconsistency,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said before the Magic game when asked to asses Hachimura’s season. “I will say defensively he’s been better.”

Still, there are nights when Hachimura shines. Against the Magic, he thrived on the wing and scored in spurts. Ten of his 30 points came during a two-and-a-half minute stretch in the second when he poured in back-to-back 3-pointers, a smooth finish at the rim and a jumper from the mid-range.

Hachimura’s ability to be a spark plug could make him an appealing trade target. Perhaps another club can also offer him a larger role. This season, Hachimura has been part of what Unseld called a “log jam” at power forward. The Wizards have a number of options to play the 4 with starter Krisptas Porzingis, Hachimura, Kuzma, Deni Avdija and Anthony Gill. Hachimura has spent a lot of his minutes overlapping with Kuzma.

“Everybody believes they should be playing more or doing more or shooting more,” Kuzma said. “That’s natural when you’re playing this sport. … It’s OK to think that way. It’s the nature of the sport.”

Like Hachimura, Kuzma will likely be a free agent at the end of the season as he’s expected to decline his $13 million player option. But the Wizards have reportedly signaled to teams that they are uninterested in trading the 27-year-old — who is averaging a career-high 21.7 points per game — and instead will try to re-sign him. 

That approach fits in line with how general manager Tommy Sheppard has operated. The executive declined to trade guard Bradley Beal and forward Davis Bertans before they reached free agency, and went on to sign them to large contracts. Bertans’ five-year, $80 million contract turned out to be a glaring mistake, though Sheppard was able to trade the Latvian and guard Spencer Dinwiddie last season for Porzingis. 

If Sheppard trades Hachimura, he’ll be moving on from his first, first-round draft pick as the team’s lead drafter. Sheppard’s tenure as general manager began months before selecting Hachimura out of Gonzaga. 

“I know what I can do, I can help the team to win,” Hachimura said. “It’s either here or (for) other team. I can help teams win a game. I know that.” 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.


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