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Rui Hachimura Rob Pelinka

(Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rob Pelinka: Rui Hachimura trade was ‘an opportunity to strike early’

Rui Hachimura Rob Pelinka
(Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rob Pelinka: Rui Hachimura trade was ‘an opportunity to strike early’

Rob Pelinka and the Los Angeles Lakers tipped off the 2022-23 NBA Trade Deadline by acquiring Washington Wizards forward and former top-10 pick Rui Hachimura for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks.

It marked the first “real” trade made of late, though the Lakers have been involved in plenty of other trade rumors throughout the season that mainly surrounded around its two first-round picks in 2027 and 2029.

Ahead of their Tuesday contest against the Los Angeles Clippers, Pelinka said that acquiring Hachimura, when they did, was the “perfect way” to improve the Lakers for the present and future.

“[We] felt like it was an opportunity for us to strike early and address a need in a market that has proven to be a little bit slow,” Pelinka said in the introductory news conference on Tuesday.

“I think the calculus for the Lakers is to win a championship or not. There’s no in-between or incremental growth,” Pelinka said. “So as we analyze opportunities, we have to do it through that lens. And, I said this at the beginning of the season, if there’s an opportunity to get all the way to the end and win a championship, there’s no resource we’ll hold on to if we feel like that’s there.”

As currently constructed, the Lakers, at 22-26, aren’t in championship contention right now. They’re currently the No. 13-seed in the Western Conference, but are four games back of the No. 4-seeded New Orleans Pelicans (26-22) and six games back of the No. 3-seeded Sacramento Kings (27-19).

There’s still a long way away until the Lakers are even in the same breath as the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies — the six respective championship contenders, ahead of the Kings, Pelicans and Cleveland Cavaliers. But that’s not going to stop Pelinka from continuing to improve the Lakers roster if there’s an opportunity available.

“And [it] doesn’t mean our work is finished,” Pelinka said. “We’re going to continue to monitor the situation with the 29 other teams.

“I think LeBron said it really well at the press conference the other night when he said, ‘My job is to play basketball. The front office’s job is to do their job and build a roster. And Coach [Darvin] Ham’s job is to coach.’ I agree with that,” Pelinka said. “We all have to do our jobs and do them with excellence and all be together. That’s how we operate and will continue to operate.”

Hachimura should unquestionably improve the Lakers, who have won nine of their last 15 games. Hachimura is averaging 13.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in 24.3 minutes, shooting 48.8 percent from the floor, 33.7 percent from 3-point range and 75.9 percent from the free-throw line. While he’s having an inefficient season, he shot 44.7 percent from deep last year, including 47.0 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s, per NBA.com.

Los Angeles desperately needs shooting; they’re in the bottom five in 3-point shooting and in the bottom half in catch-and-shoot 3-point shooting.

Hachimura is a restricted free agent at the end of the season and the Lakers have an “intention of signing him to an extension this summer,” per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Spotrac has his future cap hold at $18.8 million, which will eat into the cap space, which the Lakers could navigate easier if they extend him to a lower cap hit.

Though in this era of free-agent contracts, any multi-year deal for at least $15-20 million per year wouldn’t be surprising for a player of Hachimura’s caliber — especially if another team throws a massive offer sheet at him in hopes that the Lakers cave.

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