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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘It’s definitely a place he wanted to be.’ Domantas Sabonis reacts to Lakers’ acquisition of former Gonzaga standout Rui Hachimura

Former Gonzaga players Jalen Suggs (left), Domantas Sabonis (middle) and Rui Hachimura (right) meet after an NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas.  (Theo Lawson / The Spokesman-Review)

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.”