The playful banter between Kings general manager Vlade Divac and guard Buddy Hield reflected their relationship, their humor and a hint of the uneasiness between them during contract negotiations over the past couple of weeks.
In his introductory remarks during Tuesday’s news conference at Golden 1 Center, Divac thanked everyone for coming. He thanked Hield for staying. Then he told Hield he could address the assembled media.
“Go ahead, Buddy,” Divac said. “Now you can talk.”
Hield laughed because he knew what Divac meant.
“Now I can talk?” he asked, flashing that familiar smile. “I’m just thankful that we got to an agreement.”
Divac didn’t like what Hield had to say when he went public with his frustration over contract talks with the team, but both sides can relax after agreeing to a lucrative deal that will keep Hield in Sacramento for years to come. Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but a league source told The Sacramento Bee the Kings signed Hield to a four-year, $86 million deal that could pay him as much as $106 million if he reaches all of his incentives.
“I told Vlade he should just personally guarantee it to me, but I don’t know,” Hield quipped. “I guess he don’t love me as much as I thought he did, but I’m happy, man.”
Hield, 26, grew up in the Bahamas as one of seven children raised by a single mother. He learned to shoot using a plastic crate with a piece of plywood as the backboard. Now he’s one of the best shooters in the world, in a city that loves him with teammates who share a vision of making something special happen in Sacramento.
“It just felt right,” Hield said. “I know what I have going for me here. It was a gut-feeling decision, but Sacramento is home for me. I think the way I’ve been elevating my career the past couple years, I don’t think it would have been the same going somewhere else.”
Hield’s contract includes almost $10 million in highly attainable incentives and $10 million more in bonuses that will be more difficult to achieve. Hield’s salary will decline by 8 percent each year, from $24.4 million in the first year to $18.6 million in the final year, a figure expected to account for just 13.5 percent of the projected salary cap.
The contract is similar in structure to the four-year, $85 million deal Harrison Barnes received over the summer. The declining salary in both contracts will give Sacramento future cap flexibility to re-sign Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III, core players the organization hopes will end the team’s 13-year playoff drought.
Divac said negotiations dragged on in his office until about 2 a.m. Monday. The deal was finalized later Monday morning in the hours leading up to the NBA’s deadline for rookie-scale contract extensions.
Divac was asked about difficulties in the negotiation process and Hield’s public remarks.
“We both were committed to find a way to reach an agreement, so, yeah, it was 2 a.m., but I was ready and he was ready to stay all night long just to figure out what makes sense for both parties, so I’m very happy Buddy will remain a King,” Divac said. “The second question about his remarks, look, I was a player. I was a free agent, so I know emotionally what you go through, so I don’t take it personal because I know how much he loves Sacramento (and) how much he likes the fans here, so I felt confident he was going to stay – so I took advantage of him.”
Hield laughed again.
“I know that for next time,” he said.
Hield came to the Kings in the 2017 trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2017. He played a backup role in 2017-18 but enjoyed a breakout season as a starter in 2018-19, averaging career highs of 20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Hield shot 42.7 percent from 3-point range and surpassed the likes of Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to become the first player in NBA history to make 600 3-pointers in his first three seasons.
Hield has established himself as a critical piece of a talented young core that helped the Kings win 39 games last season, their highest win total since they last reached the playoffs in 2006.
“With his shooting alone, he makes the game easier for everybody,” Fox said. “Obviously, he’s gotten a lot better at playmaking, passing the ball and a lot of other things, but the way he puts the ball in the basket definitely helps the other four guys on the court.”
Hield wasn’t a particularly good defender over his first three seasons, but he has shown improvement and a willingness to work at that end of the floor.
“He’s made big strides so far this year, so it’s kind of one of those things where it never ends,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “You always want to push yourself to be better. No one ever ends up being perfect, but Buddy’s accepted that challenge and embraced that challenge, so we’re going to keep pushing him every day to become a better defender.”
Hield first voiced his frustration over contract talks in an interview with The Bee on Oct. 10. Six days later, he reiterated his concerns in the locker room following a preseason game against the Phoenix Suns, hinting he might seek a way out of Sacramento and “find a new home” if the team didn’t bring a better offer to the table before the deadline.
Hield didn’t want that to happen. He said he loves his teammates and sees Sacramento as a good place for his young daughter to grow up, but he didn’t regret speaking out.
“I’m going to voice my opinion no matter what,” Hield said Tuesday. “I have free will. I can do that. Some things you may agree with, some things you might not agree with, but that’s me. It’s what I think.”
Divac drove a hard bargain. Hield pushed back. In the end, they sat there together, teasing, smiling and laughing all the way to the bank.
“I was just trying to plead my case with them, but that’s done now,” Hield said. “I’m here as a King now and I’m just trying to win games and take us to the playoffs. That’s the focus now.”
Sacramento Kings upcoming schedule
Oct. 23 at Phoenix Suns
Oct. 25 vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Oct. 26 at Utah Jazz
Oct. 28 vs. Denver Nuggets
Oct. 30 vs. Charlotte Hornets