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Does LeBron Need a Buddy to Get Back on Top?

After injuries ended their repeat bid in Round 1, the Lakers are looking to reboot their supporting cast around LeBron and AD. Talks of a deal that would land Buddy Hield in Los Angeles are heating up.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

For the third consecutive year, the Lakers are hoping to have a big offseason. In 2019, they acquired Anthony Davis. After a title in 2020, Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, and Wes Matthews were added. The team was even better on paper. But after an injury-riddled season resulting in a Round 1 loss, it’s back to the drawing board.

Stars have everyone’s focus this summer: Dame, Beal, Russ, Kawhi, Lowry, and Simmons. Buddy Hield doesn’t have the same wattage, but he could be exactly what the Lakers need.

Multiple reports have indicated that the Lakers are interested in a deal for Buddy, and with fewer than 24 hours until the 2021 draft, multiple league sources say Los Angeles has stepped up its efforts by adding the no. 22 pick to a deal that’d include Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Hield to L.A. now has real traction, which would give the Lakers what they need: shooting. Elite shooting. Since Hield entered the league in 2016-17, only he, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Duncan Robinson have averaged higher than 40 percent from 3 on more than seven attempts per game. Last season, the Lakers ranked 21st in 3-point percentage and 24th in 3-point attempts per game. Now Hield could be a floor-spacing weapon with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. That’s why the Lakers want him.

There is a large segment of Kings fans who see Hield as a losing player and one of the remnants of the embarrassing Vlade Divac era. Kings fans have seen Hield jog back on defense, fall asleep away from the ball, and get blown by on the perimeter—or sometimes all of the above.

But Hield has never been on a winning team in the NBA. He has never had any real structure and has cycled through many different teammates, coaches, and front-office executives throughout his career. If the 28-year-old were playing on a contender, his defensive efforts and focus would improve. But there’s no question about what he can bring on offense. Shooting is an important championship ingredient, and Hield is one of the best at it. He can use deceptive moves when racing around screens. He sprints up the floor to get available for early offense. He relocates to get himself open.

Hield makes 42.8 percent of his 3s on the move off the catch. From a standstill, he makes 45.8 percent of his 3s, according to Second Spectrum. He played most of his rookie season in New Orleans with a dominant interior threat in Davis before he was dealt to Sacramento in the DeMarcus Cousins trade. And he’s never played with a truly great playmaker like LeBron, who added years to Kyle Korver’s career. Imagine what he could do for Hield.

Hield can handle the ball a bit, too. He just had the best passing season of his career, often playing a more patient style. Around the league, Hield has plenty of skeptics. But his fans in opposing front offices are a bit surprised more teams haven’t chased hard after him. Hield has three seasons left on his contract: $22 million next season, then $20.5 million, and then $18.6 million. That’s a fair salary for an elite shooter and a solid passer who could maybe step up his defense in a new situation.

The Lakers might get him for Kuzma, Harrell, and a pick. It’s a competitive offer, but not unbeatable. Kuzma is a nice player, but he’s still frustratingly inconsistent on offense, and he has only two guaranteed seasons left on his contract. Harrell logged DNP-CDs in the playoffs and would become an unrestricted free agent in 2022 if he picks up his option.

Both Kuzma and Harrell have their flaws, but they’d fit in Sacramento. The Kings could lose center Richaun Holmes in free agency; the Hornets are one of the numerous teams with interest in Holmes, league sources say. Harrell would be a great replacement as an energetic big who can score athletically in the paint. He’s a natural fit with Tyrese Haliburton and De’Aaron Fox. Opting into his deal could be in Harrell’s best interest financially, too, as it would keep him out of this offseason’s shallow market and allow him to rehab his value in Sacramento before trying free agency again next year.

The emergence of Haliburton and Fox in the backcourt also makes Hield expendable. Though not yet 30, Hield isn’t a great fit for the Kings’ new timeline. Kuzma, 26, would add a much-needed forward who can get buckets and play quality defense. League sources said earlier this week that Sacramento is also exploring the market for Marvin Bagley III. Frontcourt minutes could soon be free for a player like Kuzma to have a consistent role. If Sacramento instead choses Caldwell-Pope in the deal, he’d provide inferior shooting to Hield but superior defense.

The Kings could be a win-win for both Kuzma and Harrell, and adding the 22nd pick would give Sacramento an opportunity to draft another prospect from this deep class. Hield could make an impact for a winning team for the first time since he was at Oklahoma, back when he was lauded for working hard, hustling, and having an insatiable appetite for winning games.

In 2016, one year before Rob Pelinka was hired by the Lakers, Hield hired Pelinka to be his agent. Hield remains with Landmark, Pelinka’s former agency, to this day. Pelinka saw his potential back then. Hield may not be the best player who changes teams, but he could be the most important.