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May 22, 2024

Sixers stay or go: Can Buddy Hield redeem himself in Philadelphia?

After four terrific games with the Sixers following the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline, Buddy Hield cooled off and disappointed after being acquired from the Indiana Pacers.

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Buddy Hield 5.21.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Buddy Hield's Sixers tenure started off with a bang, but he ultimately fell out of favor. Might he return to Philadelphia next season?

It's going to be an offseason like no other. Save for Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and a few other depth players, the Sixers could totally overhaul their roster before the 2024-25 regular season.

With upwards of $60 million in cap space likely to be available, debates as to whether most of the roster should be brought back into the fold for next season and beyond — or not — will be debated for weeks. As the team contemplates major changes in personnel, we ponder the question, should Buddy Hield stay or go?

Sixers 'Stay or Go' series

Tobias Harris | Kelly Oubre Jr. | De’Anthony Melton
Nic Batum | Kyle Lowry | Buddy Hield | Cam Payne

After years of rumors connecting Buddy Hield to the Sixers, one of the league's greatest sharpshooters finally made his way to Philadelphia this February when Sixers President of Basketball Operations acquired Hield from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Marcus Morris Sr., Furkan Korkmaz and three second-round picks.

Within a week of being dealt, Hield cemented himself as a critical piece of Sixers head coach Nick Nurse's rotation and looked like the steal of the trade deadline: in four contests, Hield logged 38.9 minutes per game, averaged 22.3 points per contest and made significant strides as a playmaker, collecting 7.5 assists per game. Hield did all of this without Embiid, despite being acquired in large part due to his theoretical fit with the player who at the time was the reigning NBA MVP. Embiid has often allowed movement shooters of Hield's caliber to post career-best numbers during his career.

Hield's production dipped significantly as the stretch run of the regular season went on: first he went from the starting shooting guard to the team's most trusted reserve, then his role off the bench decreased as well. Morey, Nurse and co. held out hope that once Embiid returned, it would unlock Hield's fullest capabilities and turn him into a dangerous offensive weapon. Whether it was due to Hield and Embiid not having much time to get acquainted with one another, or the fit between the two simply not being as clean as the team had anticipated, the dominant 7-foot scorer and historic three-point shooter never clicked.

2023-24 was Hield's eighth NBA season, but this postseason marked the first time he played beyond the regular season. Hield expressed tremendous excitement about the opportunity, but then disaster struck: Hield could not connect on wide-open three-point tries, missed a handful of open layups and -- despite acceptable effort -- was successfully targeted as a weak link on the defensive end.

After three subpar performances to begin the postseason, in Game 3 of the team's first-round series against the New York Knicks, Hield only played for a hair under four minutes. He fell out of the rotation entirely during the team's next two games, but found other ways to contribute -- most notably with a pep talk that sparked Maxey's iconic shot-making display to keep the team's season alive in Game 5.

Nurse made a surprising decision near the end of the first quarter of Game 6, reinserting Hield into the rotation despite significant skepticism that he could contribute. Hield went on to play the entire second quarter, and it was one of the best individual quarters a Sixer has ever played in a playoff game: Hield knocked down five triples in those dozen minutes alone, leading a furious comeback and sparking chants of his name as the teams headed to their locker rooms at halftime. 

Hield finished the game with 20 points -- the only time he totaled that many since his aforementioned four-game heater after arriving in Philadelphia. His months with the Sixers were certainly disappointing, but by the end of it he had shown flashes of the potential the Sixers saw in adding an elite three-point marksman alongside their All-Star duo of Embiid and Maxey.

The Sixers will likely be open to the concept of bringing Hield back, and they have every right to be: many teams will covet a shooter of his caliber, and perhaps more time and familiarity alongside Embiid could help the duo tap into their supposed potential. 

But there are bigger fish to fry: it is well-documented that Morey and his front office hope to add a third star-level player to the mix this summer. The easiest and most efficient way to do that is in free agency, of course, as a team does not have to negotiate which players and/or draft picks they must give up in the process. 

However, to sign a star player in free agency -- or even to acquire one via trade without sending significant salary back -- a team must have a massive amount of salary cap space. And because Hield's cap hold will count as over $28.9 million against the team's books, they must relinquish the rights to Hield in order to create that caliber of financial flexibility.

Strictly evaluating the on-court fit, even after last season's disappointment, there is a more than credible case for Morey to bring Hield back into the fold in hopes that a larger sample size will yield the kind of results they hoped for when they acquired him. But the Sixers must prioritize true star-caliber players, and if the team strikes gold on that front, it is hard to envision Hield returning to Philadelphia. 

MORE: Sixers mock draft roundup

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