Rui Hachimura offers “No comment” when asked if he requested a change
The Wizards are exploring trade options for the fourth-year forward, according to multiple people familiar with the situation, a development first reported by the Athletic Wednesday.
Standing in a Capital One Arena hallway afterward a lopsided win over the Orlando Magic, Hachimura expressed his dissatisfaction with his position on the team. Asked if he thinks he’ll be traded, he said: “I guess. I don’t know.”
“I just want to be somewhere that wants me as a basketball player,” he continued. “And I want to be in a place that loves my … likes my game, you know? … I just want to be in a place that trusts me, believes in me. I can just be myself, that’s my goal.” .
The Magi drafted Hachimura ninth overall in 2019 and started him for all 48 games he played in his injury-shortened rookie year. He’s averaging 13 points in his fourth year, down from his second-season high of 13.8 while coming off the bench for second-year coach Wes Unseld Jr., whose Wizards are 20- 26.
On Saturday, Hachimura, 24, described his season as “up and down.” It started on a high note: then it came back refreshed the first half of the 2021-22 season is missing for a mental health break and then played a leading role during a two-game preseason showcase in his native Japan, where the Wizards faced the Golden State Warriors.
In late November, a sprained ankle and bone bruise kept him out for a month; he missed 16 games. Since his return on Dec. 22, however, Hachimura has been a spark plug off the bench. Both of his 30-point performances have come in that span.
“It’s been up and down, 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 out for like a month. … It was hard for me to come back from the injury and all that. I do not know. I think we have good pieces, you know, but somehow, somebody has to put it all together. … Culture, you know? I feel like that’s all I can say. It’s just hard. For all of us, it’s not where we want to be. But I think it will be fine.”
Hachimura is not the only Wizards player whose future is cloudy.
Washington has a complicated and expensive task in retaining its top center trio of Kristaps Porzingis, forward Kyle Kuzma and point 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 retain Kuzma, according to multiple people familiar with their plans, but paying him market value could push the Wizards closer to the luxury tax. Owner Ted Leonsis has paid the luxury tax just once since taking full ownership of the team in 2010.
Moving Hachimura would solve at least one problem for the Wizards: their frontcourt logjam with Hachimura and Deni Avdija, the ninth pick in the 2020 draft, competing for minutes. Washington fields a starting lineup that has Kuzma at small forward and Porzingis at power forward, Hachimura’s natural position.
“[Porzingis] playing more minutes a [power forward] kind of hits everybody,” Unseld said Saturday when asked about the mess. “Deni doesn’t get too many minutes at the four, at least he minimizes Kuz’s minutes at the four. So I can see where some of those guys are feeling a little pinched, but now that we’re whole, that’s who we need at this point — we’re going to call that person.”
That Washington is exploring trades, and that Hachimura doesn’t seem opposed to one, isn’t surprising to either side. They failed to reach an agreement on a rookie contract extension this fall.
The Wizards’ desire to court the Japanese fan base that Hachimura brought with him when he entered the NBA appears to have waned as well. Leonsis did not make the preseason trip to Japan, where Hachimura assumed the role of cultural guide and fan favorite. (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 agreement with Tokyo-based NEC Corporation this season, as the company did during Hachimura’s first three years.
Asked about his mindset amid trade rumors, Hachimura said all he can do is believe in himself. The trade deadline is February 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 just have to stay focused on the moment right now. I know all the things that are going on right now, but I just have to play the games and be myself.”
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