Rui Hachimura made a statement on the court Saturday night by pouring in 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 first reported by the Athletic on Wednesday.
Standing in a hallway at Capital One Arena after a lopsided win over the Orlando Magic, Hachimura expressed dissatisfaction with his standing on the team. Asked whether he thinks he will 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 somewhere that loves my — likes my game, you know? … I just want to be somewhere that trusts, believes in me. Just I can be myself — that’s my goal.”
The Wizards drafted Hachimura ninth overall in 2019 and started him for all 48 games he played his rookie year, which was shortened by injuries. He is averaging 13 points in his fourth year — down slightly from a career-high 13.8 in his second season — while coming off the bench for second-year coach Wes Unseld Jr., whose Wizards are 20-26.
On Saturday, the 24-year-old Hachimura described his season as “up and down.” It began on a high note — he arrived 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 showcase in his native Japan, where the Wizards faced the Golden State Warriors.
In late November, an ankle sprain and bone bruise kept him out of action for a month; he missed 16 games. Since his return Dec. 22, though, Hachimura has been a sparkplug 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 I had to stay away for like a month. … It was tough for me to come back from the injury and all that. I don’t know. I think we have good pieces, you know, but somehow someone’s got to put everything together. … Culture, you know? I feel like that’s the one thing I can say. It’s just hard. For all of us, it’s not the place that we want to be. But I think it’s going to be fine.”
Hachimura is not the only Wizards player whose future is clouded.
Washington has a complicated, expensive task ahead in retaining its core 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 retain Kuzma, according to multiple people familiar with the team’s plans, but paying him market price could push the Wizards closer to the luxury tax. Owner Ted Leonsis has paid the luxury tax just once since he took full ownership of the team in 2010.
Moving Hachimura would solve at least one problem for the Wizards: their traffic jam at forward with Hachimura and Deni Avdija, the ninth pick in the 2020 draft, competing for minutes. Washington deploys a starting lineup that has Kuzma at small forward and Porzingis at power forward — Hachimura’s natural position.
“[Porzingis] playing more minutes at [power forward] kind of bumps everyone down,” Unseld said Saturday when asked about the logjam. “Deni doesn’t get too many minutes at the four — kind of minimizes Kuz’s minutes at the four. So I can see where some of those guys feel a little bit of a squeeze, but now that we’ve gotten whole, it’s whoever we need in the moment — we’re going to call that person.”
That Washington is exploring trades is unsurprising from both sides. Although the team has been supportive of Hachimura during his tenure, including off the court during his mental health break last season, they did not reach an agreement on a rookie contract extension this fall.
Leonsis, for business reasons, did not make the preseason trip to Japan, where Hachimura took on the role of cultural tour guide and fan favorite. (Leonsis has been a candidate for months to buy a substantial stake in the Washington Nationals.) Also, 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.
Asked about his mind-set amid trade rumors, Hachimura said all he can do is believe in himself. The trade deadline is Feb. 9, the day after his 25th birthday.
“I just have to play my game, you know? I know what I can do: I can help the team to win, either here or [for] other teams,” he said. “… So I’ve just got to keep focused on the moment right now. I know all the stuff going on right now, but I’ve just got to play the games and be myself.”