Buddy Hield not guaranteed to start as Luke Walton preaches competition

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James Ham
·4 min read
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Walton wants open competition, including at shooting guard originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Competition is good for the soul and it appears that the Kings are going to have plenty of players fighting it out for minutes, roles and even starting jobs when camp opens later this week.

When the Kings allowed shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic to walk in free agency last week, it was widely assumed that Buddy Hield would step back into the starting five. That may not be the case.

Luke Walton was asked directly if Hield was going to jump back in with the first team, but the Kings' coach maneuvered around the subject.

“With this training camp, this is part of what we have to see -- What do we have? What groups are playing well together? Who compliments who?" Walton said in his first media session of the preseason on Tuesday. “At the end of the day, every decision that gets made, will again, come down to what I feel as the head coach is best for this team, giving us the best chance of winning.”

Walton passed on discussing when the last time he spoke to Hield or how that conversation went, although the Kings’ coach did say he was looking forward to having him on the team this season.

“Buddy is a very talented player, I’ve always had a good relationship with him and we’re excited that he’s part of the group,” Walton said.

According to general manager Monte McNair, he spoke to both Hield and his agent recently and they are "on the same page." 

The Kings signed Hield to a massive, four-year, $86 million contract last summer. The contract has incentives that could push the deal over $100 million in total.

RELATED: Breaking down Kings' roster battles heading into 2020-21 training camp

But Hield struggled to start the season and by the mid-way point of the schedule, Walton chose to move his second leading scorer to the second unit. The move didn’t sit well with Hield and he has voiced his concerns with coming off the bench to both the media and the front office.

With Bogdanovic leaving, the shooting guard position now is wide open, but Sacramento used the No. 12 overall selection on Tyrese Haliburton. The versatile guard out of Iowa State can replicate much of what Bogdanovic brought to the table, although he’s only 20-years-old and is dealing with an unprecedented offseason and training camp schedule.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league had to reboot in the Orlando bubble at a time that would usually be reserved for Summer League and the offseason schedule. Haliburton has not played against professional competition before and he hasn’t had time to learn the playbook and terminology in the two week period since being drafted.

Despite the lack of prep time, it appears that Haliburton will enter into an open competition for a starting job.

“It’s part of the fun of training camp is seeing guys battle and seeing guys compete,” Walton said. “We’ll see how it all plays out.”

Haliburton already has added 17 pounds to his frame during the long layoff and now weighs around 185 pounds. He’ll need that extra muscle to hold his own at the NBA level and with his age, maintaining that weight gain will be difficult early in his career.

He’ll need to hit the books hard to learn the playbook and terminology, but one of the reasons the Kings were so excited to land Haliburton in the draft had to do with his basketball IQ and understanding of the game.

“Would it be awesome to start right away in the NBA? Of course it would, but I don’t get to make that decision,” Haliburton said. “Whatever I’ve got to do to make the team win is what I’ll do. It’s going to be a fun experience and looking forward to getting out there and practicing with the guys.”

Hield clearly has a leg up on the competition deu to his familiarity with De’Aaron Fox, as well as Walton's system, but Haliburton is extremely talented and considered a close to NBA-ready prospect. The Kings are very high on the rookie both in the short and long term.

It should be an interesting few weeks in Sacramento building to the start of the regular season.