For the most part, the turbulent relationship between Buddy Hield and Dave Joerger was kept behind closed doors. In the 2018-19 season, which was the pair’s final year together, the Kings had their most wins since 2005-06, and Buddy Hield had the most minutes, points, and highest shooting percentages of his NBA career. Despite the on-court success, the pair never saw eye-to-eye and it was put on full display one night in a matchup against the Golden State Warriors.
The Kings were obviously major underdogs going into the game as they faced the year’s eventual champs led by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant. Despite the 10 three-pointers that Steph Curry knocked down and hot shooting by the Warriors to end the game, the Kings still found themselves in the game as the clock ticked toward zero.
So with just under 30 seconds to go and the Kings trailing by six, it was clear that the Kings needed to score quick. After taking the inbounds pass, Buddy Hield dribbled up the court and knocked down a deep three to bring the game back to a one-possession game. The shot gave the Kings life again, however it was clear when Buddy got to the sideline that Joerger was not thrilled.
Lets start with the obvious: a pull-up three from six feet beyond the arc is not exactly an ideal look. On top of this, Buddy was 0-6 from deep on the game and had just 13 points at this point. However he was unquestionably the team’s best shooter and if he had not hit that three, it was likely the game was over.
The biggest reason for Joerger’s anger seems to be rooted in Hield’s decision to take the shot despite the play call that had been drawn up. If you listen closely you can hear Joerger yelling out “335” which is a play that calls for De’Aaron Fox to drive to the basket and for Hield to be freed up for a three by an off-ball screen. Fox can also be seen coming to the ball in preparation for this play before Buddy pulls the trigger.
While it is never a great look to go against the coach’s playbill, it was a bad plan that Joerger had in place. Down six and needing to score a minimum of twice to extend or win the game, this play-call wastes a crippling amount of clock. There were just 18 seconds left on the clock after Buddy’s shot went through the net and if the time was taken for Fox to drive and Buddy to be freed up by a screen there would be another handful of extremely important seconds wasted. Since Buddy was able to knock down the shot so quickly, it gave hope back to the Kings that otherwise may not have been there. After Steph Curry knocked down two free throws to bring the lead back up to five, Hield was on call to knock down another big three in which he had some choice word for his coach after the fact:
After climbing within two, Andre Iguodala missed two free throws to give the Kings a chance to win the game. Joerger swallowed his pride for the moment and with the game on the line, the ball found his way to Hield in the closing seconds. Despite knocking down a very similar shot just two possessions earlier, Buddy hesitated on the attempt and ended up throwing up a contested fadeaway that fell short of the mark.
Whether the back-and-forth with Joerger got in his head or something else changed his mind, the Kings fell by two to the Warriors as a result of this matchup. Hield placed no blame on Joerger following the game and repeatedly talked about how he regretted not shooting the ball. The sequence to end the game drew opinions from several players around the league. Dame Lillard was pretty clear to put the blame on Joerger for getting in Buddy’s head.
It is also relevant to bring up a mental error that Buddy made on the defensive end in the crunch time of that same game. Buddy was face guarding Andre Iguodala on the inbounds pass but lost him immediately after the ball came into play. He appeared to be torn between doubling down in an attempt to trap Steph Curry or not but as a result, the Warriors broke the press with ease. While this play did not result in any significant harm, it is still reason for frustration.
Besides the clock management failure by Joerger and the Kings, the biggest takeaway from this game is just how hostile the relationship between Buddy and Joerger appeared to be. Regardless of how much the spat was downplayed by each of them after the fact, it is tough to deny their being negative feelings between the two. Just two games later, Buddy was benched for the final 5:42 of a 112-105 loss to the Timberwolves.
This was the start of the decrease in minutes and strain in the relationship between Buddy and the Kings organization. As it stands today, Hield has transitioned to a role off the bench and will no longer even respond to texts or calls from current head coach, Luke Walton. He also carries with him a four year $94 million contract with him which is a heavy burden to carry for his future outlook with the team. Even Lou Williams, who is universally regarded as the best sixth man in the league, has never made more than eight million dollars per season.
Dave Joerger has officially been hired as an assistant coach on the Sixers upcoming staff. It is likely Hield will be playing in another location next season and the Sixers have been a rumored destination for most of this year. Hield is nearly a perfect match for what the Sixers roster is currently missing. The shooting punch and ability to space the floor that Buddy would provide are evident, but the addition of Joerger is a hit to these hopes.
The new mismatched Sixers front-office will have a shortened offseason to attempt to rebuild the clunky currents Sixers roster. Whether or not a trade for Buddy Hield is still in the plans remains to be seen, but the bad blood between the newest Sixers staff member does sure does not increase hopes.
Mandatory Credit – Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire