This was a bit surprising to those who saw him cool off after a hot start with the Washington Wizards, trying to find his way in a rotation that added forwards Kyle Kuzma, Kristaps Porzingis, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert and all but pushed him out. However, prior to the 2023 trade deadline, Hachimura was already reminding people why he was a top-10 draft selection just four years ago.
Averaging 17.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in December, Hachimura exploded for 30 points on 13-22 shooting from the field in his final game with the Wizards on Jan. 21, a 20-point blowout over 2022 first overall pick Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic.
So, when he was averaging 21.7 points per game across the Lakers first three games of the 2023 NBA Playoffs, or 17.0 points per game in the first three games of the Western Conference Finals, the truth of the matter was that it had been seen before. Just not by many.
Rui seemed to want to put the word out that the price was back up and, as he heads towards the offseason as a restricted free agent, he will have quite a few suitors.
3 best Rui Hachimura destinations in 2023 NBA free agency
Los Angeles Lakers
First things first.
Rui Hachimura proved himself to be both a great fit and quick learner beside LeBron James, excelling in the playoffs and looking every bit like a player who was drafted ninth overall by the end of the Western Conference Finals.
So, there are a couple of thoughts that come to mind.
The first is that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The second is that continuity is key.
Both of which matter as much for Hachimura as the Los Angeles Lakers, who have a coaching staff that's excelling in the player development department and should continue to see improvements from the 25-year-old.
Especially if, for whatever reason, LeBron eventually left the Lakers and L.A. needed a forward who could step into his shoes.
Hachimura isn't a 25-5-5 guy, primarily because he hasn't demonstrated much potential as a facilitator. However, he could definitely be 20-point scorer in the right role, and efficiently as well. His dedication to playing defense, and his youth affording him more energy to expend than LeBron, might even lead to improvements on that end.
Throughout the offseason, it's been made increasingly clear that the Houston Rockets are focused on adding star talent as they look to hasten their rebuild. In fact, all systems are go on that front, as even the No. 4 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft is in play for the Rockets.
Nonetheless, Houston could still afford to add a relatively inexpensive rotation piece in Rui Hachimura, whose skillset complements a forward rotation that should include Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and Usman Garuba. Where Smith is likely to do most of his damage outside the arc and inside the restricted area, and Eason is an efficient 3-point threat that does most of his work inside the lane, Hachimura gets his points from literally everywhere.
Furthermore, Garuba has plenty to offer as a defender, connector and potentially a corner shooter. However, if the Rockets were to need a player that was a threat to score from anywhere as well as a player capable of guarding players, it may be Hachimura that gets the call.
The Rockets seem to have their sights on Brooklyn Nets restricted free agent Cam Johnson and Memphis Grizzlies free agent Dillon Brooks. However, the Nets seem likely to re-sign Johnson, who they like and who has a close relationship with rising star Mikal Bridges. Brooks won't be re-signing with the Grizzlies but unless he's humbled himself, he may not bring the type of culture that breeds championship success, as was proven just this summer.
Hachimura will be more affordable than Johnson and less of a potential distraction than Brooks, although the Lakers could obviously match any contract offer that he signs.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a similar position as the Houston Rockets so far as signing Rui Hachimura, with the caveat that they might be able to offer something that the Los Angeles Lakers want in a sign-and-trade: a highly athletic stalwart defender with a penchant for making plays for others.
Isaac Okoro, a player on the final season of his rookie contract and that fits an obvious need for the Lakers even if they're able re-sign Austin Reaves. In a league where the bulk of the scoring punch is found in the backcourt, the Lakers were routinely one perimeter defender short in the 2023 NBA Playoffs, and that had a major hand in why they were defeated by the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
However, an agile and dogged defender of Okoro's caliber — a player who can defend all around the perimeter at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds — could have made a legitimate difference. If they had him.
The Lakers needed Hachimura because of the scoring punch he added to their forward rotation, and they'll still need to address that.
In a double sign-and-trade, the Lakers receive Okoro, Dean Wade and Ricky Rubio, addressing multiple areas of need. In return, the Cavs receive Hachimura and Mo Bamba, filling out their frontcourt rotation with a forward that has two-way upside and a big man that draw big men out of the paint.