The restart is coming and there are going to be a lot of opinions as to whether the Sacramento Kings have a fighting chance in the Orlando bubble. Within those discussions there will be a couple of tidbits that need further examination.
In Tom Haberstroh’s latest column for NBC Sports, he points to Buddy Hield as “one of the more interesting players to watch” during the eight-game sprint to the finish line and he adds this item.
“Man, Luke Walton has some stones for demoting Hield to a supersub role just months after the Bahamian-born scorer signed a four-year, $94 million extension. Not many head coaches would do that in their first year with a new club, but here we are.”
Walton has had some ups and downs in his first year as the Kings' coach. The team stopped playing at the pace that we had become accustomed to in the previous season and the 0-5 start to the year and December tail spin hurt Sacramento's chances of making the postseason.
There are also plenty of positives to look at, including the development of De’Aaron Fox, the team battling through injuries and the final 20-game stretch where the team looked really solid.
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Out of all of the pluses and minuses, there is an item associated with Haberstroh’s point that stands out over everything else. General manager Vlade Divac brings in the talent and Walton coaches the players that he’s given, regardless of optics.
When Divac handed Dewayne Dedmon a three-year, $40 million contract, Walton started him. When Dedmon couldn’t buy a bucket four games into the season, Walton benched him and went in a different direction.
Walton elevated Richaun Holmes to the starting center position and eventually took Dedmon completely out of the rotation. It was a bold move, but one that was necessary. It also showed the rest of the roster that regardless of pay, Walton was going to play the players that performed.
The move that sent Hield to the bench was another example of Walton’s production over perception mindset. Divac battled with Hield during training camp, eventually settling on a four-year, $86 million contract extension with incentives that could push the deal all the way to $104 million.
It’s the richest contract in Sacramento Kings history, although that won’t be the case later this summer when De’Aaron Fox signs an extension.
At the time of Hield’s move to the bench, the Kings were in the midst of a six-game losing streak and the season was in a downward spiral. And then it wasn't.
Sacramento responded to the move, rattling off a 13-7 record in its final 20 games with Bogdan Bogdanovic as the new starting shooting guard and Hield coming off the bench in a supporting role.
There were additional contributing factors that changed the direction of the season. The addition of Kent Bazemore sparked the club. Harry Giles and Alex Len both stepped forward and filled the center position. But the change at the shooting guard was huge.
Bogdanovic is a restricted free agent this summer and likely will garner a solid contract offer in a weak market, so this might be a short-term fix for the Kings.
It has been clear that Hield isn’t particularly happy with the move to the bench. But for now, this is how Walton is going to roll.
Regardless of his want to start, Hield has played very well as a reserve and when he steps on the court, there isn’t any ill will. It might not be an ideal situation, but for now the focus is completely on the team’s push to the postseason.
If the Kings have any shot of making the playoffs, they are going to need Hield and Bogdanovic and every other player that steps on the court to play their best. They also need Walton to continue to value production above everything else.
Haberstroh is correct in thinking that Hield might be one of the most interesting players in the bubble, but perhaps for a different reason than he lays out. The Kings are focused on one thing and it has nothing to do with who is starting, who is coming off the bench or what might happen later this summer. It’s about winning games and Hield’s presence helps with that cause.