Kings' Luke Walton unafraid to make big move in first season with team

Kings' Luke Walton unafraid to make big move in first season with team

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.

[RELATED: Kings favored over Spurs by Vegas in NBA bubble restart]

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.

Former Kings head coach, Hall of Famer Paul Westphal battling cancer

Former Kings head coach, Hall of Famer Paul Westphal battling cancer

Ten years ago, I walked into my first Kings media day as an independent writer with zero experience and no guarantee that I ever would be allowed in the building again. I was green and had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I had to fight my way into the building for media day in September 2010. When I was allowed to attend training camp a day later, it always was on uncertain ground. I kept showing up and the Kings kept opening the door and letting me in.

When I was credentialed for my first preseason game, it was with the understanding that it would probably be the only time that happened. When I made it on the list for the second game, it was explained that this was only for preseason.

A decade later, I keep showing up and the Kings keep letting me in the building. The reason? I had a backer in that first season that helped change my life.

I’ve met plenty of people throughout my journey that have impacted my career, but none more than former Kings head coach and Naismith Hall of Famer, Paul Westphal.

In the opening days of my first training camp, Westphal and I formed a connection. Maybe he was looking for an ally on the other side. Maybe I was, too.

Whatever the reason, we hit it off and unbeknownst to me, it was Westphal who had gone to the Kings’ media relations staff and told them to keep letting me in the building.

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It was the early stages of bloggers being allowed into NBA arenas. I showed up like clockwork, asked questions, was respectful and by the end of my first season, I was hooked.

At one point during that first season, Westphal and I exchanged numbers so I could reach out while the team was on the road. We would chat on the phone and I would transcribe the discussions for Q&A’s.

During the 2011 summer, the NBA hit a lockout, but that didn’t close a door with Westphal. We met for lunch during the lockout multiple times and would talk basketball and life for hours.

An incredible storyteller, Westphal would share behind the scenes stories of his coaching start at Southwestern Baptist Bible College, his experience working with Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns, and even the bizarre tale of Jerrod Mustaf.

Westphal was let go in Sacramento seven games into my second season covering the team after a public spat with young star DeMarcus Cousins. By that time, I already was considered a full-time member of the media corps, in part thanks to him.

On Sunday morning, Westphal’s longtime friend, Mike Lupica, turned to social media to give an update on Westphal, who was inducted in the Hall of Fame just last year.

Outside of my personal dealings with Westphal, he is widely considered one of the true gentlemen of the game. A magnificent player during his time in the league, he’s proven to be an even better person off the court.

It has been a while since we connected, outside of a text exchange when he received the call for the Hall, but he is an incredibly influential person in my career and my thoughts and prayers go out to Paul, his wife Cindy, their children and grandchildren as he battles a very unkind illness.

Kings vs. Rockets live stream: How to watch NBA restart game online, on TV

Kings vs. Rockets live stream: How to watch NBA restart game online, on TV

The Kings have won just one out of their first five games in the NBA's Orlando bubble. And now, here comes James Harden and the Houston Rockets. 

Sunday is another must-win for Sacramento, and it won't be easy. 

Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic has scored 62 points the past two games. But that only has resulted in one win. Buddy Hield's poor play has been a huge detriment to the Kings' playoff chances.

The sharpshooter left his shot in Sacramento. Hield is averaging just 11.8 points per game in Orlando while shooting 27.9 percent from beyond the arc.

The Kings will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss or a win from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Here's how you can watch Kings vs. Rockets online (download the MyTeams app here!) and on TV:

When: Sunday, Aug. 9 at 5 p.m. PT (Kings Pregame Live starts at 4:30 p.m PT)
TV: NBC Sports California
Stream: MyTeams app