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On Buddy, Briefly

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Kimani Okearah

It is indicative of either slow news week syndrome, or the changing fortunes of the Kings and the degree to which we all remain convinced that those changing fortunes will inevitably revert to their status quo, that the relatively minor melodrama surrounding Buddy Hield’s RFA extension has come to dominate the last 24 or so hours of the media cycle at home and abroad. Certainly the palpability of Buddy’s displeasure is the root of this. As is its suddenness. As is the degree to which it is seemingly out of character for a fan favorite franchise face. Whatever the reason for the melodrama it has inspired, simultaneously, fan frustration (is this the furthest end of the player empowerment era, a non-superstar RFA demanding a trade over a $20 million disconnect?) and the distant rumblings of the ever painfully present Kangz gonna Kangz.

It is of note that it wasn’t all that long ago that Buddy was considered a bust at worst, damaged goods at best. It wasn’t all that long ago that the collective universe lost their mind over that Cousins’ trade. Worst in NBA history was the albatross Skip and Shannon and Stephen A hung around this team’s neck. Hobo Johnson made it a centerpiece of his brief ode to the futility of Kings’ fandom. Vivek was laughed out of the room for favorably comparing Buddy to Steph and Klay (to a point fairly). But this team took a chance on Buddy. Believed in Buddy. Believed he could be a contributing piece. A focal point even. Still believe in Buddy. As such it feels a little disingenuous to chalk this situation up to historic organizational mismanagement and dysfunction when, up until last season, Buddy was considered a shining example of that historic organizational mismanagement and dysfunction.

And I’d imagine those are exactly the reasons for Buddy’s rather vocal displeasure. He knows the powers that be believe. He knows what last season, and his play specifically last season, meant/means to the fans and the franchise and the city. Shit, to the league. The team is seven on Sports Illustrated’s recent Most Entertaining Teams list and he’s a crucial reason. It’s understandable I suppose that he’s confused about a disconnect of $20,000,000. For the same reasons we’re confused inversely. I imagine he believed he and the Kings were on the same page. And I tend to believe they are. Even if the timeline to that page is a bit different.

It’s likely not necessarily easy to gauge value when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And when you’re operating on hard earned good will for the first time after a decade plus of equally hard earned contempt. Buddy may never be an All Star, this team may not make the playoffs for another season or two, an October contract extension may look retrospectively ridiculous when you’re fighting Minnesota in February for the 10thseed. But can you afford to alienate one of the most exciting three point shooters in a generation, a person you’ve already invested significant human and financial capital in, because it may be the prudent thing to do financially? Because, managerially, you have all the power?

I skew to no. I skew to paying. Not paying to placate. And I’m not quite sophisticated enough to parse the difference. But paying to see this experiment through. Truth be told, Buddy was the start of this new era. As much as Fox is now the face of the franchise, Buddy remains the face of the rebuild. As such I suppose it is appropriate then that Buddy is now also the face of the first real growing pains this franchise has experienced since coming out of that rebuild.

I’m genuinely unsure of the outcome, genuinely unsure of what the right thing to do is. However I remain, however futile it may be, confident of a positive resolution. The past, present and future of Buddy and the Kings are too intertwined at this point for that not to be the case. They owe it to each other. It’s the reason, ultimately, all of this has felt so personal for Buddy, the franchise, the fans.

To close, a brief story. Last month I was on a turbulent flight and when we landed one passenger turned to the other and said “Christ that was bumpy. Thank God we landed.” The other passenger responded “We landed. Beats the alternative.”

Whatever the outcome, beats the alternative.