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How Buddy Hield’s contract could be affected by resuming the 2019-20 season

Hield has a number of bonuses in his contract on the line.

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NBA: Detroit Pistons at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Kings spared themselves an uncomfortable situation this offseason by agreeing to an extension with Buddy Hield last October, foregoing restricted free agency and securing the sharpshooter’s services for an additional four seasons.

The general consensus at the time was that the Sacramento front office negotiated a favorable deal; the Kings retained the key prize of the DeMarcus Cousins trade and descended the contract so that Hield’s salary would only count for 13.5% of the salary cap in his final year. Furthermore, because the base salary was $86 million and incentives accounted for an additional $20 million on top of that, the Kings gave themselves another layer of protection.

By including so much in incentives, Sacramento may have inadvertently created some extra cap space this summer. Hield’s cap hit was supposed to be $26.4 million in 2020-21 including his base salary of $24.4 million and likely bonuses totaling $2 million. However, Hield is currently shy of at least three of the benchmarks, which could push his cap hit down to $24.9 million or even further for the upcoming season.

Per Bobby Marks of ESPN, each of the following four criteria would result in a $500,000 bonus for Hield:

  • Total 3-point percentage (greater than 40) and free throw percentage (greater than 85)
  • Per game turnovers (less than 2)
  • Defensive rating (less than 110.5)
  • Top 10 in 3s made

Hield is currently shooting 39.5% on 3-pointers and 85.5% from the foul line. He is averaging 2.3 turnovers per game, has a defensive rating of 111.0, and is second in the league in total 3-pointers made behind James Harden. That means Hield currently clears one of the four benchmarks.

Sam Amick of The Athletic has slightly different incentives listed from his original story about the Hield extension:

Year 1 reachable incentives: Play at least 70 games AND shoot 85 percent from the free-throw line ($500,000); average fewer than two turnovers per game ($500,000); lead the league in made 3-pointers ($500,000); post a defensive rating below 110.5 ($500,000).

According to Amick’s reporting, Hield has qualified for the first incentive (he hasn’t missed a game so far, so the Kings would presumably prorate the games played criterion) and none of the other three. However, it is exceedingly strange that “lead the league in made 3-pointers” is a likely incentive when Hield has never done that, and Harden and Stephen Curry exist. It makes me inclined to believe Marks has the correct information.

Either way, as it stands, Hield would be carrying a $24.9 million cap hit into next season based on both lists. That all changes if more games are played, and whether those games are even classified as “regular-season” games, since playoff stats don’t generally factor into these calculations.

I’m not going to pretend to understand how sensitive defensive rating is to minutes played, but the other values are a lot easier to calculate. If Hield misses his next free throw, he would fall below 85% from the free-throw line. Similarly, if Hield made his next six 3-pointers (or 8 of his next 10), he would be above 40% from 3-point range. He’s probably too far gone on turnovers and is presently 27 made threes behind Harden, which is an unreachable gap.

That means if we go by Marks, Hield’s bonuses for next season could realistically swing between $0 and $1.5 million, and if we go by Amick, they could range from $0 to $1 million in just a few games. Sacramento has to re-sign Bogdan Bogdanovic this summer and presumably would like to stay under the luxury tax, which could be a lower number than expected due to the pandemic, so every bit of savings counts.

There is also one more bonus to consider: if the Kings advance to the first round of the playoffs, Hield collects an additional $500,000. If the league proceeds with a 20-team group stage format, would that be considered a “playoff”, thus awarding Hield his bonus and tacking on $500,000 to Sacramento’s cap sheet next season? The Kings would presumably be delighted to play in a postseason, but if they crash out in a group stage, it might sting to have extra money on their books due to a pandemic-inspired technicality.

There is also the possibility that the cap drops significantly next season, in which case Hield’s contract would also shrink because he cannot make more than 25% of the total cap as a player with less than seven years of experience. We’ll gloss over that hypothetical for now because it would deserve its own piece to discuss all the repercussions.

The NBA has an unending list of decisions to make about this season without even considering the 2020-21 league year. But this is something that the Kings will surely have on their minds as the plans for resuming the 2019-20 season round into form. Front offices are always planning for the future, and Hield’s contract is a variable that still has several possible values.