In February of 2017, Sacramento Kings General Manager Vlade Divac shocked the basketball world by sending DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans at the trade deadline. The return on Cousins’ value seemed laughable at the time, as the two highest valued assets coming to Sacramento were a top-10 protected first round pick and the oldest lottery pick in the draft, Buddy Hield, and Divac didn’t help his case by admitting he missed out on a future first round pick during the negotiations. As the headline player heading to the Kings, Hield had averaged just 8.6 points and 2.9 rebounds, while knocking down a respectable, if unremarkable 37% of his long-balls in the Big Easy. There was no guarantee that the front office had acquired anything more than a competent role player in the deal.
Two full seasons have passed since that transaction took place, and Hield’s contributions have soared. The former Oklahoma star has worked his way from bench shooter to key starter, and he was arguably the best player on a 39-win team last year, leading the Kings in both scoring and total minutes played. Buddy’s shooting prowess, always the most respected part of his game, has also exploded, as he finished the 2018-2019 season with the second-best three-point percentage of any player who attempted at least shots from beyond the arc per game, trailing only Steph Curry.
From a historical standpoint, Hield has also spent the last few years smashing a couple of NBA records. He sunk the most three-pointers in a single season in a player’s first three years at 278, in addition to making the most three-pointers through a player’s combined first three seasons at 602. Those markers weren’t purely set from a volume basis either, as Buddy recorded the highest three-point percentage out of any player in the top-10 of those categories. He’s worked his way from prospect to fringe All-Star candidate in just a few short years.
That acceleration in production will make Hield one of the most sought after free agents next July. Outside of Anthony Davis, who will likely re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, there aren’t any franchise changers available in the summer of 2020. The quality rookies from the 2016 draft class make up the majority of top-tier contributors, a list that includes Pascal Siakam, Buddy Hield, Jaylen Brown, and Brandon Ingram, alongside veterans such as DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, and Kyle Lowry. Hield undoubtedly ranks toward the upper echelon of that group, meaning a team could very well target him as their number one option in free agency.
Sacramento’s front office will retain the right to match any offer tossed Buddy’s way, as he enters next July as a restricted free agent, but the team can also avoid the entirety of that potential drama by signing their star shooting guard to a contract extension. To date, three players from Hield’s class have inked extensions: Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray to five-year maximum contracts, and Caris LeVert to a three-year, $52 million deal. The Kings have a couple of options on the table when considering Buddy’s future with the team.
Designated Rookie Extension
The designated rookie extension, the same contract that Simmons and Murray signed with their respective clubs, allows organizations to modify the typical rookie extension in two ways. The first alteration is a possible bump in pay, increasing the first year’s salary from 25% to 30% of the cap, but that requires certain qualifiers, such as making the All-NBA First, Second, or Third Team, being named the Defensive Player of the Year, or being selected as the Most Valuable Player. It’s safe to say that Hield won’t reach any of those benchmarks.
Even if a player doesn’t meet the standards for that 5% raise, the designated rookie extension has another benefit: it’s a five year deal instead of the normal four year contract. On the surface, that looks like a no-brainer option for the Kings, as Buddy’s lack of reliance on athleticism should allow him to enjoy a very long career, a la JJ Redick or Reggie Miller. But there’s a catch: NBA teams can only roster two designated rookies at a time, no exceptions. The front office likely wants to reserve those deals for De’Aaron Fox’s extension in the summer of 2021, and Marvin Bagley’s deal the following offseason. It would be foolish for the Kings to burn one of those slots on a player who is very important, but not a cornerstone for the franchise.
Assuming he isn’t granted the designated rookie extension, Hield will still be eligible for the more traditional rookie deal. His salary of $4.8 million would be paid at the same rate, and his giant payday wouldn’t hit until the 2020-2021 season. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the Kings have the right to offer up to 25% of the projected $118 million cap with 8% annual raises. Those increases don’t compound off of the new salary each year, meaning the percentage is calculated off of the original base salary.
Maximum Rookie Extension
If the Kings and Buddy don’t agree to the terms of an extension, opposing teams won’t be able to offer quite as much cash to Hield on the open market, as the CBA limits raises to just 5% in free agent contracts, as opposed to the 8% threshold in a rookie extension. Another organization could get frisky in July and offer Buddy a maximum contract of four-years, $126 million.
|Season||Kings Max||Free Agent Max|
|Season||Kings Max||Free Agent Max|
That four-year, $126 million potential deal becomes the natural starting point for any discussions between Vlade Divac and Brandon Rosenthal, Buddy’s agent. There’s quite literally no advantage for the Kings to offer their maximum of $132 million or another team’s maximum of $126 million, as they fully control Hield’s destiny as a restricted free agent. Many franchises emptied their coffers this past summer, meaning the market is projected to be tight in 2020. A max offer is by no means guaranteed to be sent Buddy’s way; he could even be squeezed by the lack of available cash. And even that type of contract were presented to Hield, the Kings would match without hesitation.
A careful balance will need to be struck between the two sides through negotiations. A four-year, $110 million contract may be attractive enough to Hield’s representation to bypass free agency, but that only saves Sacramento an average of $4 million annually versus a potential max offer this summer. That’s about what they’ll pay Richaun Holmes this year. That may not be enough of a savings to tempt the Kings into signing the deal. Conversely, dropping the total payout to $98 million would grant the front office a yearly discount of $7 million, a respectable amount, but Buddy may balk at surrendering $28 million in potential income to secure a contract before the season begins.
Finding the middle ground between Sacramento’s future cap needs and Buddy Hield’s current desires may be difficult, but difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Studying the salaries of some of the highest-paid shooting guards in the league may not be the perfect template for a rookie extension, but it can help cast a guiding light on the process:
|Player||Salary in 2020-2021|
|Player||Salary in 2020-2021|
That range in pay actually fits quite well within the bounds of a non-max contract for Hield. He’s certainly more valuable than Malcolm Brogdon, Zach LaVine, Gary Harris, or Tim Hardaway. The next tier up contains players like Jrue Holiday, DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal, and Devin Booker (Greg doesn’t allow me to talk about Andrew Wiggins), and although those names are much more renowned than that of Buddy Hield, he contributed at nearly their same level last year. He will expect to be compensated at a similar level as well.
The juxtaposition of Vlade Divac’s and Buddy Hield’s goals, to pay the least amount and to get paid the most amount, when put in alignment with the salaries of top shooting guards around the NBA, and contrasted against the maximum contract that another team can offer this summer, seems to work toward something in the range of four years, $104 million. That extension would put Hield well above the likes of Brogdon, LaVine, and Harris, while not eclipsing those of Beal, Booker, and McCollum. It would also offer Sacramento a potential savings $5.5 million per year, an important buffer against the luxury tax in the coming years. As Michael Scott would say, it’s a win-win-win deal.
Speaking in hypotheticals is always much easier than real world mediation, but two undeniable facts are working together in favor for an extension: Buddy wants to stay in Sacramento and Sacramento wants Buddy to stay. If the two groups find an acceptable dollar amount, Hield will be locked into the purple and black for the next five years before opening night tipoff. If no agreement is struck this summer, the Kings still fully control the future of their star shooting guard, and they’ll match any offer headed his way come July of 2020.