Buddy Hield and Cam Payne were thrown right into the 76ers starting lineup in their team debuts.
PHILADELPHIA — Buddy Hield and Cam Payne had no time to waste as they hustled into their debuts with the Philadelphia 76ers. Because of the injuries plaguing the Sixers, the new trade-deadline additions were thrust right into the starting lineup in their very first game.
Nick Nurse said that he only had enough time for a pregame walk-through to teach Hield and Payne a handful of sets before the 76ers faced the Atlanta Hawks. Philly lost by a final score of 127-121, stumbling through the first half and eventually making the game competitive, outscoring the Hawks 35-24 in the fourth quarter.
Nurse said the newcomers handled everything “very good,” especially with the way they fired away from three-point land. Hield shot just 4-12 from deep and Payne went 4-9. Nurse lamented that a few of their shots were close misses but he still enjoyed that the 76ers shot 45 threes as a team, their most since Christmas and a top-five count for the season.
“You feel like a good portion of times down, you can get an open three with him on the floor,” Nurse said of Hield. “And I would imagine Kelly [Oubre Jr.], Tobias [Harris], those guys got some driving lanes tonight because they’re pressing out so far on him. I imagine it probably helps the spacing for other things.”
As they trailed by 17 points at halftime, Payne said that the 76ers rallied in the locker room, refusing to go down easily. Playing with grit and working collectively, he said, were the keys to the comeback attempt. They didn’t have quite enough juice to steal the win but the impact of the new guys — both as high-volume shooters and guys who can generate offense — was felt immediately and immensely.
Both Payne and Hield scored 20 points and tied for the team-high of six assists. The former shot 7-16 from the field and the latter shot 8-21. Each veteran has experienced a mid-season team change multiple times in their careers, though that doesn’t always make the transition easy.
Hield joins Philly via trade with the Indiana Pacers. He said that now-former teammate T.J. McConnell and now-former assistant coach Lloyd Pierce, who each spent years with the 76ers, gave him some key pointers about his new home, his fourth NBA team. Years of trade rumors linking the two sides finally culminated in a union that was reported early on deadline day. Hield said his agent notified him of the deal when it was “75 percent done.”
“I’ve been hearing that for a long time. It never happens,” Hield recalled telling his agent. The long-discussed move finally coming to fruition left Hield in a place he is happy with, on a team that should help him make the playoffs for the first time in his eight-year career. “I’m just glad to be here. I’m glad to be a Sixer,” he said.
Hield has the makings of a movement shooter who should work extremely well with Joel Embiid, operating out of handoffs that bend defenses by opening up clean looks from deep. He said that he hasn’t yet thought specifically about how he and the big man’s partnership will operate. However, knowing how aggressively teams double-team Embiid in the games he played against him gives him an idea of what he can expect.
Embiid still has a lot of progress to make in his recovery from a meniscus injury. Upon his return, though, Hield will be ready. “When the opportunity comes, I would love to be able to play with him and embrace that moment,” he said.
Payne wasted no time endearing himself to 76ers fans after the game, throwing Patrick Beverley’s words right back at him. He’s stepping in to replace a fan-favorite and key supplemental ball-handler that he was swapped for in a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. Payne said that the last 24 hours have been “a whirlwind” and that he just met his new teammates on game day.
“I feel like I’ve been playing with Buddy Hield forever but I never played with him. But we starting to figure some synergy out today. Me and Tobias Harris as well. It‘s just gonna be different for me,” Payne said. “I gotta figure out the offense a little bit more, figure out where all my guys can strive, figure out their spots. I know Kelly likes getting to his left, so I gotta figure out more ways to get him to the left throughout the offense. Shoutout to Nick Nurse, too. He was big time with me today, getting me acclimated, as well.”
One thing that helped Payne with the transition to the 76ers was that his coach for most of this season was Adrian Griffin, one of Nurse’s former assistants with the Toronto Raptors. Payne also spent a few months of the 2019 offseason with Nurse’s Raptors before being waived ahead of the season.
“It was pretty cool for my first day here,” Payne said, adding that he anticipates watching a lot of film and that he wants to keep improving to uplift his sixth NBA team.
When Tyrese Maxey returns to the lineup after fighting off an illness, Payne seems likely to return to his bench role. He gave Maxey a shoutout for being a first-time All-Star and revealed that he was the first player to text him following the trade. To so quickly embrace the replacement of a guy he greatly admired is a sign of the leadership Maxey shows, which Payne is a big fan of.
“I thought I was turbo. Like, I thought I was fast. He’s way faster than me,” Payne said. “He knows how to get downhill at an elite level…He turned into a vet real quick.”
The 76ers hope that De’Anthony Melton and Nico Batum can return soon, too, while Embiid and Robert Covington handle their respective rehab processes. The moving parts for Philly will only stay in motion as the front office peruses the buyout market to fill out the rest of the roster.
Life in the NBA moves pretty fast, though, and there’s no time to stop and look around. The 76ers’ loss to the Hawks was the first leg of a back-to-back with a road game against the Washington Wizards on deck. With Philly slipping closer and closer to play-in-game territory with every loss, moral victories aren’t prizes worth celebrating. “Nobody’s gonna feel sorry for you in the NBA and there’s no crying in basketball,” Hield said, borrowing a phrase from his high-school coach.
Buddy Hield and Cam Payne hit the ground running with the 76ers and the race isn’t even close to being over. The All-Star break will provide a pit stop the team really needs. But after that, they will have to be ready to forge ahead at maximum speed.