Luke Walton

Can Kings sign both Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield to long-term contracts?

Can Kings sign both Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield to long-term contracts?

Editor's note: This is the eighth installment of NBC Sports California's "20 questions facing Kings" series that will look into pressing matters for the team once the NBA returns.

In a perfect world, the Sacramento Kings would have taken a huge leap forward during the 2019-20 season and there would be no question about their core moving forward.

If the team hadn’t started 0-5, maybe things would be different. If Marvin Bagley hadn’t gone down in the first game of the season and then struggled with injuries throughout the year, or if De’Aaron Fox didn’t limp off the practice court with a severely sprained ankle in the second week of November, who knows where they would be.

Despite the rough start, injuries and a brutal stretch in December when they couldn’t seem to buy a win, the Kings stand at 28-36 on the season and they are still alive in the postseason chase, if the NBA season ever resumes.

Whether the league is able to salvage the season or not, the Kings have some major question marks this summer, with the biggest quandary being whether or not this team, in its current form, is good enough to compete for a playoff spot for the next 4-5 seasons.

If they are, then general manager Vlade Divac has an easy decision this summer. You match any reasonable offer for Bogdan Bogdanovic, extend De’Aaron Fox and look to bolster the rest of the roster through free agency and the draft.

If they aren’t good enough, then a few difficult decisions have to be made. First on that list might be whether the team can keep Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield long term.

Nuts and Bolts

Hield signed a new four-year, $86 million contract with incentives that can push the deal over the $100 million mark in October. He’ll make $26.4 million during the 2020-21 season, which is the highest single-season salary in Sacramento Kings history.

While it’s a big cap figure, the Kings managed to work in an eight percent decrease every season as both De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley come up for extensions. Hield will make $24.5 million in 2021-22, $22.5 million in 2022-23 and $20.5 million during the 2023-24 campaign.

After signing a three-year $27 million contract with the highest first-year salary of any rookie in league history in the summer of 2017, Bogdanovic is a restricted free agent this summer. The Kings have made re-signing the 27-year-old as their top priority and there is a real possibility that they will match any offer for his services.

With a weak free-agent crop, Bogdanovic very well could get a huge offer from a team, which would force the Kings to reevaluate their plans. But with the coronavirus pandemic throwing basketball-related income and the salary cap up in the air, there may only be room for one of these shooting guards long term.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Background

Bogdanovic was supposed to be the starting shooting guard entering the 2018-19 season, but a late summer knee issue cost him the first 10 games of the season and Hield played extremely well in his absence.

Hield walked into the 2019-20 season as the starter alongside Fox in the backcourt, but he wasn’t quite as effective as he had been in the previous season. Following a bad loss in Detroit on Jan. 22, coach Luke Walton made the decision to move Bogdanovic into the starting lineup and Hield to the bench. The Kings responded by going 13-7 over their next 20 games.

There are multiple reasons for the team’s surge, including Fox getting healthier, the emergence of veteran Kent Bazemore and the strong play of Harry Giles and Alex Len at the center position.

It should also be noted that Bogdanovic and Hield are close friends. The pair of shooting guards are also two of the hardest workers on the squad and both can be found working on their games at all hours at the team's practice facility.

The case for Hield

Buddy Buckets isn’t just a fun nickname, it’s an accurate depiction of who Hield is as a player. An elite shooter, Hield has the most 3-point makes of any NBA player through their first four years in the league and he took home the 3-point contest trophy at this year’s All-Star weekend.

Since heading to the bench, Hield saw a major uptick in most of his stats. In the 20 game stretch with the reserves, he posted 19.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 26.6 minutes per game. During this stretch, he played 7.8 minutes less per game, but his shooting numbers spiked dramatically, including his 3-point percentage, which jumped from 36 percent as a starter to 47.6 percent off the bench.

Long term, Hield looks like a perfect fit next to Fox in the starting backcourt. His ability to hit the 3-pointer opens the spacing for Fox to run free.

On the downside, Hield needs more work as a defender and while his assist numbers have improved, he needs to continue to find ways to create for his teammates.

Hield is under contract for the next four seasons, although he begrudgingly signed his extension and has been vocal about being underpaid. He has also made it known that he sees himself as a starter in the NBA and isn’t excited about the possibility of being a long term sixth man.

The case for Bogdanovic

The Kings’ most versatile player, Bogdanovic can play the one, two or three. He can score at all three levels and he is the team’s best playmaker outside of Fox, especially in half-court sets.

Bogdanovic struggled coming out of the gate and had a series of leg issues that cost him 13 total games. When the season went on hiatus, Bogdanovic was just starting to settle into his role alongside Fox in the backcourt.

Playing off the ball takes some getting used to, but Bogdanovic seemed to be finding his rhythm. He isn’t the pure scorer that Hield is, but he’s still a quality perimeter shooter. While Bogdanovic struggled from long range after the initial move to the starting lineup, he shot 41 percent from deep over his last five games on 7.8 attempts per game.

Like Hield, Bogdanovic isn’t a lockdown individual defender, but he’s solid in team defense and has one of the highest basketball IQs on the Kings’ roster.

One of the primary reasons coach Luke Walton cited for moving Hield to the bench was to allow Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica to play more minutes together. The two play together for the Serbian national team during the offseason and they have a nice chemistry.

The Kings have a team option on Bjelica for next season at just over $7 million per year and there is a good chance that he returns. But the long term goal of the team is to get Bagley back in the starting lineup, which would once again break up the tandem.

Prediction

Having multiple quality players at the same position isn’t a bad thing and if the Kings can keep Hield and Bogdanovic happy long term, they should try to hold onto both players, at least for now.

If the Kings can stay healthy, there is always a chance that Walton reverses course and turns back to Hield with the starting unit, especially next season if Bagley can stay on the court. Sacramento will need as many shooters on the floor as they can get to help keep the spacing right.

[RELATED: Ibaka, Kings: Could this be the perfect fit?]

Unfortunately, the league’s salary structure is about to go through a massive transformation. With losses already piling up in the 10’s of millions for every club, there might not be room to expend $40+ million a year on one position.

Despite the contract and Hield’s ability to knock down the 3-point shot, Bogdanovic will likely come in at a less expensive rate and is more versatile. If the team has to choose, they should probably go with the player that can play multiple positions and act as a primary ball-handler, whether it’s with the first or second team.

Kings' Jesse Mermuys running video coaching clinics during NBA pause

Kings' Jesse Mermuys running video coaching clinics during NBA pause

During the 2011 NBA lockout, Sacramento Kings coach Paul Westphal would go to local gyms and teach basketball 101 to Kings season ticket holders. Groups would sit in chairs with notepads as the Hall of Fame player diagrammed basic sets.

With the NBA once again on hiatus, this time due to the coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered all professional sports, the Kings have turned to assistant Jesse Mermuys to do a similar, although updated version.

“I want to make sure you guys know that in this unique time, that your Kings family is with you, that we’re in this together and part of the reason we’re doing this is to just share our love of basketball and provide some joy for you guys,” Mermuys explained.

A holdover from coach Luke Walton’s Los Angeles Lakers staff, Mermuys knows the playbook well.

In his first video, Mermuys breaks down the Kings’ pick-and-roll offense.

In video No. 2, the Kings’ assistant jumps to transition offense.

And in the final video, Mermuys looks at an end-of-game sideline out-of-bounds play that they used to free up Nemanja Bjelica for a 32-foot 3-pointer in the Kings’ win over the Houston Rockets on Dec. 9, 2019.

[RELATED: Kings' biggest NBA draft busts since moving to Sacramento]

The videos dig deep into a few technical aspects of the Kings’ schemes. Known for his positivity and non-stop energy, Mermuys is a great host for the film series. In the third episode, he even brings in Bogdan Bogdanovic from his home to help add context to Bjelica’s game-winner.

Whether you’re looking for a basketball fix, trying to take in some extra coaching knowledge for your rec team or looking to improve your overall understanding, Mermuys is sharing some trade secrets.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

NBA rumors: Kings GM Vlade Divac, coach Luke Walton's jobs likely safe

NBA rumors: Kings GM Vlade Divac, coach Luke Walton's jobs likely safe

After an 0-5 start to the 2019-20 season, the Kings looked stunned. An eight-game losing streak in the month of December had the team all but dead in the water, and a six-game downturn in January had the Kings in need of some changes.

But a couple of moves at the trade deadline changed the chemistry of the Kings and righted the ship. Those trades might have saved the team from a tumultuous offseason filled with changes to the front office and coaching staff.

According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, the pairing of head coach Luke Walton and Vlade Divac is likely to continue into the 2020-21 season, at a minimum.

“Owner Vivek Ranadive had made his frustrations known with both the front office and coaching staff during the Kings’ 15-29 start,” Amick writes. “Questions arose about whether he might be compelled to make changes in the offseason, but sources say Divac and Walton appear very likely to remain (their contracts run through the 2022-23 season).”

There was plenty of tension in the room as the Kings stumbled out of the gate and completely fell apart during one of the softer parts of their schedule in December. But with the Kings rattling off a 13-8 record in their final 21 games and jumping back into the postseason chase, the noise began to quiet down.

The Kings had 18 games remaining on the schedule when the NBA went on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone in the building appeared focused on the challenge at hand, which was ending the franchise’s 13-year playoff drought.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

At the time of the shutdown, Sacramento was in a three-way tie for ninth place in the Western Conference standings with the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans. The trio trailed the Memphis Grizzlies by three and a half games for the final postseason spot. 

There is no question that Walton and Divac are tied together in this venture. After a 39-43 record under head coach Dave Joerger during the 2018-19 season, the team’s best record since the 2005-06 season, Divac chose to go in a different direction. 

Rumors of Walton’s arrival had begun in Sacramento while he was still coaching the Los Angeles Lakers. The courtship lasted hours, not days, once Walton left the Lakers in an amicable split. 

Walton was Divac’s target and the Kings’ general manager landed his top option. 

Throughout the season, Walton asked for patience. Injuries to Marvin Bagley, De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic played a role in the slow start, as did the challenges brought on by installing new offensive and defensive principles. 

[RELATED: What is Marvin Bagley's long-term position in NBA?]

The team’s turnaround coincided with two major moves. Veteran Kent Bazemore was added to the squad in a trade for Trevor Ariza, and Walton moved sharpshooter Buddy Hield to the bench in favor of Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Hield has thrived in his role as a sixth-man, although he isn’t ecstatic about the move. Bogdanovic was still making adjustments with the starting group, but the team was winning.

At the time of the shutdown, the Kings were playing their best basketball of the season. They had positioned themselves in the thick of a postseason chase and the improvements on both sides of the basketball were apparent. 

While the Kings currently sit eight games under .500, there is no question that the team was trending upwards and Walton had bought himself another season, at least.