After another trade, Buddy Hield will look for his place with a contender

By | March 6, 2024

The trade deadline brought another change of scenery for Buddy Hield, the third midseason move of his career. And yet his move to Philadelphia offered a different twist than the first two blockbusters that uprooted the Bahamian gunslinger. Midway through his rookie campaign in New Orleans, Hield landed in Sacramento, remember, when the Kings parted ways with DeMarcus Cousins ​​before the 2017 All-Star Weekend had even ended. Hield left the Pelicans as a footnote to a headline, the young lottery pick meeting a team’s asking price for an All-Star return. After six dutiful seasons in Sacramento, Hield’s salary helped the Kings match the incoming numbers for Domantas Sabonis when Sacramento shocked much of the league by dealing Tyrese Haliburton to the Pacers.

In February, Hield finally marked himself as a main attraction when he headed to the 76ers, a necessary floor spacer to solidify what Philadelphia still hopes can be a title contender once reigning MVP Joel Embiid returns from a meniscus injury. “You want to go to a team that wants you. You don’t want to go to a team you’re on and say, ‘We’re going to try this out,'” Hield told Yahoo Sports. “Other teams are trapping Embiid, so having a three-point shooter to keep the guys honest, I know the reason why I was traded here.”

“I think even like Tyrese [Maxey] He’s still going to get more opportunities and more opportunities,” said Sixers head coach Nick Nurse, “if he has space, he can burn through some of that space on his way to the rim.”

Before that, Philadelphia focused on an archetype of dynamic shooters, including Bojan Bogdanović (who ended up with the Knicks), according to league sources, and Hield wasn’t exactly surprised when he woke up Thursday morning to a deadline call informing him of the deadline. Sixers were his last destination. Hield hopped on a plane, found his way to the practice field and has been launching ever since, making 42.2% of 8.2 long-range attempts per game, enjoying the increased commitment now afforded to him with Philly’s ultimate barometer. “It’s a completely different mentality. They are in a win-now mode, a champion mode,” Hield said.

Buddy Hield of Philadelphia 76ers plays during an NBA basketball game, Friday, March 1, 2024, in Philadelphia.  (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Buddy Hield is shooting 42.2% from three-point range for Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

He had much less clarity two years earlier, when Hield, along with Haliburton and Tristan Thompson, boarded a charter from Northern California to Indianapolis, bound for corn fields and the unknown consequences of rebuilding. Haliburton, the lanky ball handler with that wayward shot, was still dealing with the grief and shock of his own first trade, his nose buried in his phone as his thumb scrolled through the doom. But amid all those changes, Hield certainly knew what awaited his younger teammate on the asphalt. “I had to listen to Tristan and Buddy tell me how badly the Kings had messed up all along,” Haliburton said. “I was like, ‘Can you just shut up for a minute?'”

“The way he played had a lot of advantages,” Hield recalls. “I said, ‘Man, this case is tough. You never know what could happen. I always tell him, ‘Yo, they say they won’t trade you, but they will trade you.’ I said, ‘Look, Indiana is an opportunity to start your own brand, be yourself,'” Hield continued. “Be Tyrese and make a name for yourself.”

Haliburton, of course, has been throwing the no-look passes and splashing the deepest triples that have made him famous in households across America. Hield and Haliburton had hoped to reach the play-offs together for the first time, with Hield extending the opponent’s feeble attempts to guard Haliburton’s mastery with the ball. But the NBA economics he once taught at cruising altitude slowly ended his Pacers tenure, which Hield said at first felt like a crash landing.

This 2023-2024 season marks the final term of a four-year, $94 million contract Hield signed with Sacramento. When talks between his representation and the Pacers’ front office about an extension failed to generate much momentum this fall, his agent requested an Indiana trade for Hield before his eighth season even began.

“If a team doesn’t want to re-sign you, we asked them early and you know the deal. It’s the game,” Hield told Yahoo Sports. “They say they want to sign you and if that doesn’t happen, the conversations on the phone don’t really go through, and it’s like talking to a wall and no one responds. But after that you are under contract and you have to fulfill your contract. So it’s one of those deals where you have to come in every day and be professional. But I know the whole atmosphere was so different.

After playing 73 games in the 2022/2023 season, Hield opened the first twelve games of this season after coming off the bench. He then opened the next 16 with the first unit as Indiana powered its way into the championship battle of the NBA’s inaugural regular-season tournament. Not long after, he returned as a reserve and drifted in and out of Rick Carlisle’s starting lineup throughout the season as the Pacers juggled different combinations around Haliburton — when the young All-Star was healthy — and Bennedict Mathurin’s backcourt developments and Andreas Nembhard. The Pacers have pulled a number of levers and lineups in an attempt to soften up Indiana’s defense, which is so far behind the offense.

“I think the most challenging part was the indecision, the indecisiveness. Just like with games. We had a lot of guards and we never knew who… what decision Rick was going to make. Who starts, who doesn’t,” Hield said. ‘And what they think of you. I know there was a feeling that they weren’t that excited about me. I know a lot of decisions were made, like who would be in court, who wouldn’t be in court? I just know it was at the point in the season where it was like, okay, I have to get out of here.

Hield’s name was largely missing from the league’s rumor mill as the deadline approached, but the 31-year-old still prepared for his next trade. He is no stranger to the noise that precedes each transaction cycle. His name appears to have been linked to the Lakers since his former agent, Rob Pelinka, took control of Los Angeles’ basketball operations. He was almost traded to the Lakers for Kyle Kuzma in 2021. This departure from Indiana, however, was one he expected would become a reality.

“Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing with that team, it was fun being with that team. All the young guys, it was just a joy to be around,” Hield said. “But a decision had to be made, I think, on both sides. [general manager] Chad [Buchanon] I made a decision that is best for them and best for me.”

The Sixers will enter this summer with more cap space than any team with real contending ambitions, with the proud feather in this front office’s cap dating back to the early-season negotiations in Philadelphia that sent James Harden to Los Angeles. The Sixers have lofty ambitions to add a legitimate third star alongside Embiid and Maxey, but there could still be plenty of money left for an all-world marksman like Hield. Let alone any scenario where Philadelphia marches further into the playoffs than ever before in this, shall we say, post-Process era.

For now, March brings the pressing task of keeping Philadelphia above the seventh seed, out of the play-in picture, as Embiid works his way back to the center tip. A loss to Brooklyn on Tuesday, with Tyrese Maxey out with a concussion, didn’t help. But Hield happily floated around Philadelphia’s pregame locker room, AirPods in his ears, fixated on his way to the players’ chapel. He ended each segment of his on-court warm-up by throwing a self-pass into an alleyway along the baseline, a reminder to himself and to any early show fan or reporter who might be watching, holding his Kobes aloft, colored with the aqua and gold of its national flag. “I never get around the edge,” Hield said with a smile. “So if I get the chance, I still have to show that I can get there.”

Maybe Philadelphia, with the role and path to a payday, is exactly where he should be.

“It really worked,” says Hield. “I know the void they missed is shooting. We just have to figure out how to play together and weather the storm until Joel comes back.

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