I — and I don’t think I’m alone — will miss Buddy Hield.
I remember that June evening when last summer’s draft was held and the Pelicans selected Hield sixth overall. I was on a date, and when I got the notification saying Hield was New Orleans’ pick, I was suddenly excited. Hield was known to be an immensely likable guy and frankly I didn’t care if he was destined to be a bust or a superstar because I was excited to have a quality human being on my team.
I saw Buddy play firsthand in college. His then No. 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners came to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center to face Ben Simmons and the LSU Tigers. The game was hyped as the most talented prospect in the upcoming draft going up against the nation’s best collegiate player, and Buddy outdueled Simmons all the while ripping our hearts out. LSU had an eight point lead at the half and Hield was largely a nonfactor over the first 20 minutes.
Then Buddy Buckets took over.
Hield finished the game with 32 points and hit seven threes in the second half. Hield was the catalyst for a 22-8 Oklahoma run that got the Sooners back in the game after trailing by as many as 14 points. And the threat of Hield hitting yet another basket from beyond the arc worried LSU so much on Oklahoma’s final possession that they doubled him, leaving a teammate wide open to nail the go ahead basket.
Simmons, the future No. 1 overall pick in the draft, had 14 points. Hield, the No. 1 player on the No. 1 team took it to him and dropped 32 on his homecourt.
No, Hield hasn’t been that player as a professional. He may never live up to his Wooden Award winner billing. Or he may be, as the Kings are banking on, the next Stephen Curry. Either way, it’s asinine to make any grand declarations about how Hield’s professional career will unfold midway through his rookie season.
No matter how his career goes, I wish nothing but the best for Buddy Fresh.
I’ve met Hield: He’s a funny, charming and charismatic guy. I met him on media day prior to the start of training camp and he was great with all the eager onlookers. I asked him where he got his fabulous Buddy Buckets suit he wore to the draft and he proudly proclaimed “J.C. Penny.” He said he’d go suit shopping with me. I still don’t know if he was serious or not, but if so, hopefully I can catch him next time he’s in New Orleans.
I sincerely hope things work out well for Hield in Sacramento. Hield’s the headliner coming back to the Kings in exchange for their once prized center and I hope Kings fans embrace him as the face of their future; I hope he’s not looked at as an unsatisfactory consolation prize. It’s not his fault Vlade Divac and Vivek Ranadive are both incompetent and have laid to waste everything they’ve touched. Hield didn’t ask for this.
As likable as Hield is — and he is extremely likable — he has had an unfortunately star-crossed start to his professional career. If he’s not being compared to Jamal Murray every other game, he’s getting traded to Sacramento as the marquee piece in one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory.
Maybe all of this toughens Hield up. Maybe he’ll forever carry a chip on his shoulder and be the one of the key pieces who brings Sacramento back to relevancy. Maybe he spends countless hours in the gym improving every aspect of his game and lives up to Ranadive’s rather bold Steph Curry comparison.
What’s sad is since this Cousins trade was so unexpected, New Orleans fans never got a chance to properly say goodbye to Hield. No one could have known that those 28 points he scored as a representative of New Orleans in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge would be his farewell performance in uniform. It’s a bigger shame now that Murray caught fire late and swooped the game’s MVP honors from Hield in the final minutes of the game.
Hopefully, this doesn’t continue to be a trend for Hield’s career. I hope Hield can become the man in Sacramento and wow his new hometown fans with jaw-dropping shooting displays and be a nightly League Pass alert. I’d even be okay with Hield dropping bombs on New Orleans when the two play down the road. And I’ll enjoy every three he drains in DeMarcus Cousins’ face.
Goodbye and good luck, Buddy Hield. I’m rooting for you.
And I can’t wait to go suit shopping with you.