The silence you’re hearing now regarding contract talks between Buddy Hield and the Kings is the sound of two sides talking behind closed doors — or not talking at all.
These negotiations are complicated and nuanced, influenced by fluctuations in free-agent market projections and world events. If both sides are willing to move a little toward the middle, there’s still time to get a deal done before Monday’s deadline for rookie-scale contract extensions. If not, the situation will remain unresolved as the Kings enter their most promising season in more than a decade.
The Kings acquired Hield, 26, in the trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2017, making him the first piece in a rebuild that brought excitement back to Sacramento. Losing him now would be an unmistakable setback, especially if they were to lose him in free agency this summer without compensation.
Hield has made his feelings well known since first expressing frustration over contract talks in an interview with The Sacramento Bee on Oct. 10. He walked right out on Front Street and announced that, while he wants to stay in Sacramento to finish what they’ve started here after winning 39 games last season, he was insulted by the team’s initial offer. He said he feels undervalued and talked about changing teams, hinting he might demand a trade if a deal isn’t finalized before the deadline.
Hield explained himself further when pressed on the message he was sending in a quiet moment with The Bee following a larger media scrum in front of his locker after Wednesday’s preseason game against Melbourne United. He doesn’t want to wait for the Kings to match some other team’s offer this summer. He wants a new contract now and will consider seeking a way out of Sacramento if that doesn’t happen.
“I think I gave you all clue points of exactly what I’m saying,” Hield said. “If you can match it, if you know what I’m going for, why not give it to me now? What’s the point of waiting so long? That means you don’t trust what I bring to the table. So why wait till other teams give me something I deserve and why didn’t you do it? Hopefully it’ll happen by Monday. If it don’t, might have to find a new home.”
This is an uncomfortable position for the Kings. They love Hield but must manage their cap space carefully. General manager Vlade Divac and his front-office staff have said nothing publicly, choosing instead to hunker down with their salary cap sheet, Ken Catanella’s calculator and an eye on mounting revenue losses in China.
The Kings have offered Hield a four-year, $90 million extension, but Hield wants $110 million, league sources told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. The team has to weigh the cost of re-signing Hield now against the potential cost of matching an offer if he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. The Kings also have to determine what percentage of their salary cap they can allocate to Hield now while earmarking enough money to re-sign point guard De’Aaron Fox and forward Marvin Bagley III over the next two years.
An international incident has made it difficult to project future salary cap figures and the cost of cap-based max contract extensions. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league’s recent spat with the Chinese government has already resulted in “substantial” revenue losses. The salary cap is established each year based on revenue from the previous season, so a decline in basketball-related income in China — the NBA’s second-biggest market — would have a direct and significant impact on the cap.
Hield is eligible to receive up to 25 percent of the cap through a four-year extension worth $130.7 million or a five-year, designated-player extension worth up to $170 million. Hield isn’t demanding the max and his side seems resigned to the fact that the Kings are saving their two designated-player slots for Fox and Bagley, but he doesn’t want to feel undervalued by the organization.
What Hield wants is a deal worth about $27.5 million per year. That would amount to 23.7 percent of the team’s cap space next season if current cap projections hold at $116 million. But let’s say the Kings make that deal and then next year’s cap drops by 10 percent to $104.4 million due to the fallout in China. Hield’s money would then take up 26.3 percent of Sacramento’s cap space.
The Kings are reportedly offering an average salary of $22.5 million. That would amount to 19.3 percent of a $116 million cap and 21.5 percent of a $104.4 million cap.
Now look at the contract the Kings gave Harrison Barnes over the summer. Barnes received a four-year, $85 million deal that will pay him an average of $21.25 million per year. That figure would amount to 21.6 percent of this year’s salary cap, but Barnes’ contract is frontloaded to pay him $24.1 million in the first year, which is 24.5 percent of the cap.
Hield and Barnes are both highly respected and valued members of the team, but Hield’s side will argue that he deserves a bigger piece of the pie. He’s the team’s leading scorer. He’s emerging as a potential All-Star and looks like he could be a generational shooter after becoming the first player in NBA history to make 600 3-pointers in his first three seasons.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Friday the Kings have “already expressed some remorse” over Barnes’ contract. A league source told The Bee that wasn’t true, but these numbers are undoubtedly being brought to the team’s attention in their negotiations with Hield.
Catanella, who started on Wall Street before coming to the NBA, is working that calculator like crazy this weekend as Monday’s deadline draws near. The Kings have done a nice job of structuring salaries in ways that give them future cap flexibility. Barnes’ declining contract is expected to take up only 14 percent of the team’s cap space in the final year. Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza and Cory Joseph all accepted partial guarantees in the final years of their deals.
If the Kings don’t get Hield’s deal done now and he becomes a restricted free agent this summer, they will still have the right to match any offer he receives. However, if Hield has another big year, another team could put even more than $110 million on the table this summer. If the Kings chose to match, they would be bound by the terms of that offer, meaning they would lose the ability to structure the contract in a way that makes the most sense for them.
ESPN front-office insider Bobby Marks reported Saturday only four teams are projected to have more than $20 million in cap space this summer: the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies. All four could upgrade at shooting guard with the addition of Hield. The Hawks might be salivating at the idea of putting him next to Trae Young.
There are good reasons for both sides to get this deal done now and they might if each is willing to move toward the middle, but these negotiations are complex, complicated by feelings, emotions, market fluctuations and foreign governments.
Hield and the Kings have come this far together and they’re not that far apart. The question now, amid an uneasy silence, is how much further they’re willing to go.