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Luke Walton says Buddy Hield will have to compete for starting job in training camp

Despite the depature of Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield isn’t guaranteed a spot in the Kings’ starting lineup.

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New Orleans Pelicans v Sacramento Kings Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

With Bogdan Bogdanovic now in Atlanta, the Sacramento Kings have a hole to fill in their starting lineup at the shooting guard position. Most people assumed that Buddy Hield would fill that hole, seeing as he started 44 games at shooting guard last season and all 82 games the season before, and while that could still end up being the case, Luke Walton hasn’t committed to giving Hield, the team’s highest-paid player, a spot in his first five.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces here, so we have to continue to look at what’s going to be best for our team,” Walton said in a Zoom conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “Even last season, Buddy started more than half of the season, and when he didn’t start, he played a huge role for us coming in off the bench and being a dynamic 20-point-a-night scorer.

“Every decision is always based on what I feel is best for the group and best for the team, and with this training camp, this is part of what we have to see: what do we have? What groups are playing well together? Who complements who? And at the end of the day, every decision that gets made will come down to what I feel as the head coach is best for this team and giving us the best chance of winning.”

Hield was moved to the bench in favor of Bogdanovic in January. At the time, Walton insisted that the move wasn’t permanent, but Hield didn’t start a game for the remainder of the season. Hield’s diminished role caused a rift between him and Walton, and according to a report from Jason Jones of The Athletic in October, Hield refused to respond to Walton’s phone calls in the offseason.

Walton declined to address the level of communication they had in the offseason, but he sounded optimistic that they’ll be able to have a good working relationship this season.

“I’m not going to get into in-house stuff of who I’ve talked to and this and that, but Buddy’s a very talented player, I’ve always had a good relationship with him and we’re excited that he’s part of the group.”

As good as that may sound to Walton, it’s hard to imagine that Hield is thrilled that his head coach is still non-committal when it comes to his role with the team. Hield has been with the Kings for over the years and was their leading-scorer during the 2018-19 season.

There was real competition at shooting guard last season with Bogdanovic, but this year there’s no question as to who the starting 2-guard should be: it’s Hield until someone proves otherwise. That should have been the message that Walton gave on Tuesday and it wasn’t. Suffice to say, there is still work to be done in that regard.