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LOS ANGELES — As he sauntered down the arena hallway, Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield flashed an infectious smile. Hield did so even amid various circumstances that could have left him in a sour mood.
The Kings just suffered a 122-114 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday for reasons that included LeBron James’ dominance (31 points) and a controversial late-game jump ball. The Kings (16-23) have struggled all season with staying healthy, navigating the pandemic and playing well consistently. And Hield is only an offseason removed from the Kings nearly dealing him to the Lakers.
“It’s basketball. If it happened, it happened. If it didn’t, it didn’t,” Hield told NBA.com. “But it’s basketball, and you have to live with it. It’s the business side of it. At the end of the day, I still have a job. I can go to all 30 teams in the league. As long as I have a job, I’m happy.”
The Kings talked to the Lakers about dealing Hield in exchange for Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell. Instead, the Lakers dealt those assets in addition to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and future Draft picks to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook.
Did it feel close that Hield would play for the Lakers?
“It did,” Hield said. “Talking to my agents and the media, of course. The media knows more than the agent and team, basically. But it didn’t happen. So, I’m still here. I’m still in the league and have an opportunity to play basketball. That’s the fun part about it.”
And that’s partly what made the Lakers-Kings matchup on Tuesday so riveting. As Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of Hield, “he’s one of the best shooters in the game.”
Hield finished with 26 points while shooting 8-of-18 from the field and 7-of-13 from 3-point range off the bench. He also made consecutive 3-pointers to give the Kings a 108-107 lead with 3:54 remaining. Westbrook had 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting and zero turnovers only two days after recording nine turnovers against Minnesota.
After Westbrook made a layup that gave the Lakers a 116-112 lead with 1:31 left, Hield misfired on a 19-foot fadeaway while Westbrook defended him.
Despite the competitive back-and-forth moments, Hield insisted that the Kings-Lakers talks hardly added any fuel to Tuesday’s game or the two previous regular-season contests.
“My job is to win the game. We didn’t get to win the game,” Hield said. “So, it sucks. So, you got to keep on going and going.”
Hield has tried to keep that mindset through different potential pitfalls.
He knew the Kings considered him available in trade talks. He has mostly played as a reserve instead of a starter for the second time in three seasons.
The Kings fired Luke Walton earlier in the season, and interim coach Alvin Gentry spent 10 days in protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. The Kings are 10th in the Western Conference. Perhaps more trade discussions happen involving Hield as the Feb. 10 trade deadline nears.
Yet, Gentry observed, “I don’t think those kind of things bother him.” Why not?
“It’s my personality and where I came from,” Hield said. “I come from the Bahamas. In the NBA, we complain, we argue and say we want more playing time and we want more shots. But being in the NBA, you have to enjoy being here. People are fighting every day to be in this league. I got an opportunity to be in this league, and hopefully I stick around for longer. I’m blessed to be here.”
Therefore, Hield insists on making the best of his current situation.
This season, he’s averaging 15.8 ppg on 39% shooting and 37.9% on 3-pointers. Those shooting percentages are his worst since the first 57 games of his career, which were spent with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2016-17 (before he was dealt to Sacramento at midseason for DeMarcus Cousins). The Kings, however, have remained patient with how Hield plays through such stretches. Hield has scored 26 points in each of the past two games while shooting efficiently against Miami (9-of-18) and the Lakers (8-of-18). As Gentry noted, “you got to live with some of the 2-for-10 nights because he can also do what he did the last couple of games.”
“There’s always going to be noise from the media and things like that that will be around you. But the thing with him is he’s always trying to keep the main thing the main thing,” Kings forward Harrison Barnes said of Hield. “He’s always going to come and work hard. There’s always room for improvement. But if you ever talk to him or ever sit down with him, you realize that he’s trying to be the best teammate that he can and be the best player that he can.”
The Lakers saw a glimpse of that on Tuesday nearly six months after declining to see Hield fulfill that role in a purple and gold uniform. So did the Kings, which will soon weigh how much longer they will lean on Hield for his services.
“You can’t get too high. You can’t get too low,” Hield said. “You have to stay locked in.”
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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