SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Much of the talk around the biggest deal of this year's NBA trade deadline focused on who Buddy Hield isn't.
He isn't DeMarcus Cousins, the player he was traded for (among other pieces going both ways). He isn't Stephen Curry, the player that the owner of his new team compared him to. He isn't a franchise player.
At least not yet. Not as a rookie.
None of this is news to Hield.
"People said [I was like] Steph Curry in college," he told Bleacher Report on Monday. "Yeah, I guess, but I gotta develop. Steph Curry, he's a different animal. He's in his own world. He does whatever he wants. I can't do the things Steph Curry does right now.
"I'm not Steph Curry."
But here's the thing to remember: Hield also isn't an afterthought, a player only worth talking about in how he compares to an All-Star like Cousins or Curry.
"I'm Buddy Fresh," he said. "I'm Buddy Love. I'm just me. I'm just Buddy."
So who is "just Buddy"? What's his side of the story?
Start with the trade. Hield arrived in Sacramento via the trade deadline's biggest deal—an out-of-nowhere exchange that sent Cousins and Omri Casspi to the Pelicans for Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and first- and second-round picks in the 2017 draft.
In a manner befitting the less-heralded half of a blockbuster deal, he was blindsided by it.
"I heard whispers before, but I heard they were dead," he said.
His agent told him the Pelicans had gotten offers but didn't want to give him up.
"So I was relaxed, and then…"
He became "the guy the Kings got for Cousins." And even if Boogie's departure winds up being what matters most for Sacramento—the ultimate case of addition by subtraction—the rookie must still find a way to define himself apart from that.
For the Kings, he's not just a shooting guard with a marksman's reputation and a lottery pedigree. He's a symbol. He's a vessel for the new hope and clarity of purpose attached to the Kings' post-Cousins cultural overhaul. He's the figure a franchise long associated with turmoil and complacency needs.
It's a fitting role for Hield, and one he's hell-bent on earning. He's in Sacramento to set an example by working his ass off and filling a leadership role.
It doesn't matter to him that he might be considered young for that at 23.
"I don't care really. If I see how it is, I'm going to say it now," Hield said. "You gotta. Why not? If it's not gonna help you win—if doing what you're doing now is not gonna help you win—why do it and keep losing with it? Somebody has to speak up."
Kings general manager Vlade Divac has been impressed by what he's seen so far from Hield.
"Since he came here, it's been crazy," Divac said. "Looking from my office, it's been three times a day in the gym. I'm like, 'Wow.'"
Hield was at an empty Golden 1 Center at 4:30 p.m. PT on Monday, working out for a game that wouldn't start for another three hours. He may not have the stroke down yet—he scored eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in that night's 102-88 loss to the Timberwolves—but in terms of preparation and pregame sweat, he's already doing his best Ray Allen impersonation.
These are the qualities the Kings, for now, are pinning their hopes to.
Divac sees Hield as a leader, a tone-setter he wants the Kings' other young players—Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and Malachi Richardson, to name three—to look up to. It doesn't seem to matter yet that Hield's greatest exploits as a King have come on the practice court.
In fact, that might be exactly what Divac wants.
This is a ground-up cultural retrofitting for the Kings, and starting with the simple stuff like putting in extra hours and grinding to improve are fine for now.
Hield knows, though, that retaining credibility as a model of the Kings' new direction will require in-game production—something that has mostly eluded him in a rookie campaign marked by sub-40 percent shooting and a No. 81 (out of 98) ranking among shooting guards in ESPN.com's Real Plus-Minus.
|Buddy Hield by the numbers|
There are plenty of 35-year-old journeymen capable of setting examples with long shooting sessions and vocal criticisms of a losing style. The Kings will eventually need more than that.
"You can work as much as you want, but you gotta go on the court and prove yourself too," he said.
Divac expects it. He believes the talent he scouted before the 2016 draft will yield something special.
Without hesitation, Divac says Hield can be a star. And, according to the GM, the added stress that comes with replacing Cousins will help him get there.
Asked about the expectations Hield faces, Divac said, "Well, but that's OK. … If you want to be a star in this league, you've got to take the pressure on your shoulders. And I think he can take it.
"I believe in him, and he's got to figure it out."
Maintaining his own identity as he's asked to be so much more than a player for the Kings will be hard enough, but Hield's task is only tougher on a team whose objectives remain hazy. Making the playoffs is a stated goal, based on what Divac told reporters in the immediate aftermath of the trade. Heading into Tuesday, the Kings led a pack of five clubs within three-and-a-half games of the No. 8 spot in the West.
But with so much emphasis on starting fresh, on laying the foundation for a new beginning, it's difficult to understand how those long- and short-term aims mesh. In situations like this, trying to have it both ways typically results in getting neither.
For his part, Hield is committed to the here and now.
"Losing is not in my DNA," he said. "No just cruising these last couple games and saying, 'Oh, we don't have DeMarcus. Oh, we're not expected to win.' No. I want to finish out strong. I don't want to be on my couch watching those other 16 [playoff] teams playing. I want to do something better than that."
Inspiring talk and a lofty goal for a player who has yet to make much of an on-court impact this season. But embedded in Hield's commitment, vocally and physically, are qualities the Kings covet.
Hield is an unusual rookie—which is a good thing considering his unusual situation.
He has a long way to go, and he's being asked to do more than is fair, but Hield sounds equipped to handle his complex role.
"Somebody's got to step up and say we can't win like this," he said.
Hield might not be Cousins or Curry. But he's not afraid to be the one doing the talking.