The Sacramento Kings interrupted the NBA’s showcase weekend with the trade of DeMarcus Cousins. The three-time All-Star was stunned by the move, as were plenty of others around the association.
With all the focus on Cousins and what might have been, rookie Buddy Hield packed up his belongings in New Orleans and moved into a downtown Sacramento motel room. It’s a business. Players are reminded of that all the time, but for a first year player, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
“When you get traded, it’s like a wake up (call),” Hield told NBC Sports California. “First time it happened to me, first year it was like, okay, maybe what I was doing wasn’t good enough for the team to keep me. So you go into your own element and try to make yourself better.”
Hield, the sixth overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft, wasn’t setting the world on fire with the Pelicans. Averaging 8.6 points and 2.9 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game, the 23-year-old wing started the final 36 in a Pelicans uniform for head coach Alvin Gentry.
The Kings liked Hield in the draft and the jumped at the opportunity to add him as part of the mega-deal for Cousins. It took seven games for Dave Joerger and his staff to elevate Hield to the starting shooting guard position and he spent the remaining 18 games of the season looking more like the star scorer from Oklahoma University that fans had become accustom to.
In his 25 game audition in Kings uniform, Hield posted 15.1 points and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 48 percent from the field and a sparkling 42.8 percent from behind the arc. He set a new career-high in scoring multiple times, including a 30-point outburst late in the season against the Phoenix Suns.
When most first year players were hitting the rookie wall, Hield found himself in a new situation and excelled. The Freeport, Bahama native is known for his tireless work ethic. He could be seen out on the court before anyone else every game night hoisting hundreds of 3-point shots in pregame and behind the scenes, he was known to be in the gym two or three times a day.
“I wear down, but there’s a drive to keep me going,” Hield said. “Just knowing my struggles to get here, how long the process was of me getting to the NBA. That’s what keeps me going. I get tired, but I know where I came from and how hard it was to get here. I just can’t give up.”
Hield showed flashes of being a high-end scorer during his short time with the Kings, but he also showed his youth. He has a laundry list of items to work on over the summer, including improving his shot selection, ball handling and becoming a better defensive player.
“I need a lot of things, this summer is great for me because next year it will show how big of a jump I can make,” Hield said. “After that, we build off of that. Just keep building. I’m never going to take a step back. My motto is we always look ahead, we never look back.”
There is no question that Hield is driven to succeed. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, which was only amplified by his rookie season trade to the Kings. He’ll likely open the 2017-18 training camp as the favorite to win the starting shooting guard position, but the field is crowded and there is no room for regression.
“My rookie season was cool, it was okay, I wasn’t satisfied with it,” Hield added. “Many people might be satisfied with it, but I’m trying to build and make progress and try to get this franchise to the playoffs.”
This attitude is part of the reason the Kings coveted Hield in the draft and made the trade to get him. He has the want to be great and the commitment to do the work. Time will tell what his ceiling is as a player, but betting against him would foolish.