Just over four months ago, Kings sharpshooter Buddy Hield – upset about hardly seeing any fourth-quarter action in a pair of close losses – told reporters there were “trust issues” in Sacramento. Less than a month later, in January, he was removed from the Kings’ starting lineup in favor of Bogdan Bogdanovic. And a few weeks after that, in mid-February, a report from The Athletic suggested it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Hield requests a trade in the offseason.
It looked like a troubling series of events for the Kings, particularly since Hield had raved about establishing an “instant connection” with new head coach Luke Walton in September and signed a four-year, $86MM extension with the franchise in October. That long-term contract, which goes into effect beginning in 2020/21, was supposed to make Hield one of Sacramento’s core building blocks. An up-and-down season raised uncertainty about whether that’s still the case.
Still, there have been recent signals that any tension between Hield and the Kings may not be as bad as it looked. As we relayed earlier this week, Sam Amick of The Athletic wrote that Sacramento’s late-season surge significantly reduced the likelihood that Walton or GM Vlade Divac will be replaced before ’20/21. And it seems possible that Hield, who insisted in December that he’s a team-first who only cares about winning, will be increasingly receptive to a sixth man role if it’s helping the Kings win games.
Speaking to Amick, Walton downplayed the idea that the Hield situation was any sort of cause for concern, adding that he and the 27-year-old have a “very good relationship” and get along well.
“Buddy was not happy about not starting, but he didn’t b—h,” Walton said. “He said, ‘You’re the coach. I’m going to do what I need to do.’ … Even with Buddy (coming off the bench), he was still playing starter minutes, he was still finishing certain games, and it’s one of those things where if you’re truly bought into being on the team, you end up accepting it because that’s a huge value. … And I thought Buddy had really, really done a nice job of embracing that and making our team better.”
The Kings played their best basketball of the season with Hield coming off the bench, winning 13 of 20 contests. His per-minute production improved noticeably during that stretch as well. After averaging 20.0 PPG with a .416/.360/.816 shooting line in 44 games (34.4 MPG) as a starter, Hield recorded 19.4 PPG on .465/.476/.970 shooting in 26.6 MPG off the bench.
After clearing some future money from their cap at the trade deadline, the Kings are considered likely to re-sign Bogdanovic, an RFA-to-be who is “very good friends” with Hield, according to Walton. That means that Hield could remain in his reserve role beyond this season.
It will be a fascinating situation to watch. Hield has become one of the NBA’s very best three-point shooters and would be highly coveted on the trade market if he were made available. But his four-year commitment to Sacramento wouldn’t give him much leverage, and he may be happy to stick with the Kings if the team continues building on its second-half success, regardless of whether or not he’s starting.
What do you think? Do you expect Hield to push for a trade this offseason, or is this a non-issue, as Walton suggests? Are you bullish on the Kings’ outlook, or would you be worried about another disappointing season reigniting Hield’s frustrations? Will he be satisfied with a sixth man role, or do you expect him to reenter the starting lineup at some point?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!