There are still a few weeks to go before NBA free agency begins in earnest on June 30, but the Lakers have already made it clear that keeping Rui Hachimura will be one of their top priorities when it begins.
The team has been leaking for the last month that they will match any offer for Hachimura (and his fellow restricted free agent, Austin Reaves), but it still remains to be seen if Hachimura will be able to get the money he’s seeking directly from the Lakers, or if he’ll have to sign an offer sheet with another team that Los Angeles will then have to choose whether or not to match.
When asked about that upcoming free agent process on ESPN’s “Hoop Streams” before Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday night, Hachimura made it clear he was appreciative of his time in purple and gold but was noncommittal about a return (emphasis mine):
“The reason why I requested the trade is that I wanted to be somewhere I could be happy and play basketball, that liked me as a basketball player, that believed in me, and the Lakers were one of the teams that was really interested in me. My agent and the team did a good job, and I went to the Lakers and it was a crazy season for me... Back at that time, we didn’t even know we were going to make the playoffs. So we made the playoffs and the playoff run was pretty good, we lost to Denver but it was pretty good for us. I don’t know my future but I just want to be somewhere I can be happy. The Lakers have been good and we’re going to see.”
If you are reading this and want Rui back in L.A., it’s certainly not something to panic over. Hachimura can’t exactly publicly beg to return if he wants to get the most money possible in his first go-round in free agency, or if he wants other teams to pursue him hard and think there is a chance he could be gettable.
Given that he’s a restricted free agent and that the Lakers seem to value Hachimura, odds would still seem to be better than not that he’s back in Los Angeles anyway. If the team really wants him, there is no reason they can’t keep him (at least if they don’t go all out in pursuit of cap space). And if they lose him, unless they renounce/cut a bunch of the other free agents/non-guaranteed contracts on their roster, they can’t generate significant cap space to replace him.
For those two reasons — plus the fact that Rui did seem to be pretty happy in Los Angeles — assuming he’ll be back seems like the safest bet for now, even if Hachimura (understandably) playing coy about it means we’ll have to wait at least a few more weeks to be sure.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.