SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Domantas Sabonis and the Sacramento Kings had just finished their customary post-shootaround tradition of heaving halfcourt shots when the All-Star center was notified about the NBA’s latest headline.
Sabonis’ interest is piqued anytime a frontcourt player moves into the Pacific Division, but that wasn’t the only reason Monday’s transaction grabbed the attention of the second-year Sacramento King and former Gonzaga standout.
A two-team trade sent Washington Wizards forward and ex-Zag Rui Hachimura to the Los Angeles Lakers for guard Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks.
“I just heard,” Sabonis said from a practice gym at the Golden 1 Center. “It’s crazy.”
Not all that surprising either, from Sabonis’ standpoint.
In 2018, when Hachimura and Gonzaga were in Los Angeles for a Sweet 16 matchup against Florida State, Sabonis dropped by to visit with Bulldog players and coaches.
Sabonis, then in his second year with the Indiana Pacers, recalled a specific conversation with Hachimura.
“He spoke it into existence,” Sabonis said. “I think the year I left, (Gonzaga) was in the second round or something. He was like, ‘Yeah, I’m home. This is my city.’ ”
Sabonis and Hachimura, former first-round NBA Draft picks who’ve highlighted Gonzaga’s international recruiting success, will be seeing each other on a frequent basis in the Western Conference.
“I love it,” Sabonis said, “I get to see him four times a year.”
All four regular-season matchups between Sacramento and Los Angeles took place within the first three months of the season, but there’s an outside shot of a postseason meeting between the teams. Only five games separate the third-place Kings and 12th-place Lakers in the Western Conference standings.
Sitting just one game outside of a play-in berth, the Lakers, with 35 regular-season games left, acquired Hachimura with their playoff push in mind. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward was averaging 13.0 points and 4.3 rebounds with the Wizards before Monday’s move. Hachimura is shooting 48.8% from the field and 33.7% from the 3-point line.
A native of Toyama, Japan, Hachimura is moving to a region that was home to the highest population of Japanese-Americans (177,000) of any city in the U.S. mainland, according to a 2019 study from the Pew Research Center. During the Bulldogs’ visit to Staples Center in 2018, Gonzaga held two separate media scrums for Hachimura – one in English and one in Japanese – due to the attention he received from Japanese reporters.
“I’m happy for him,” Sabonis said. “It’s definitely a place he wanted to be.”
Sabonis sees opportunities for growth in Hachimura’s game playing alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook.
“It’s going to be a great situation,” Sabonis said. “If the Lakers are going to turn it around, he’s going to be in a great spot to experience a lot of great things. He’s around three Hall of Famers, so the more knowledge he can soak up the better.”
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