The Kings are locked into a turbulent contract-extension negotiation with Buddy Hield.
They reportedly offered $90 million over four years ($22.5 million annually). He reportedly wanted $110 million over four years ($27.5 million annually).
Looming over all this: Sacramento just re-signed Harrison Barnes for $85 million over five years ($17 million annually).
It was bad enough when Rockets owner Tilman Ferttita openly griped about Chris Paul's contract. Ferttita hadn't yet bought the team when Houston traded for Paul and maybe made agreed to future compensation. The Rockets fell short with Paul and were headed toward the downside of his deal - paying increasingly high salaries as he aged.
But Sacramento signed Barnes this summer! He hasn't even yet played a game on this contract!
This getting out reflects poorly on the Kings. Maybe this is untrue, and they can deny it, though there's a perception battle to show they're finally run competently. I also wouldn't be surprised if someone from Sacramento management said this when Hield's side kept bringing up Barnes as precedent.
Hield is much better than Barnes. But production isn't the sole determinant of salary. Their situations are quite different.
Barnes entered last offseason with a $25,102,512 player option. He could've exercised that and stuck on Sacramento's books for a higher salary. He could've declined it and left as an unrestricted free agent.
Hield is under contract for next season. If he doesn't sign an extension by Monday's deadline, he'll be an restricted free agent next summer. He can't unilaterally leave until 2021 at the earliest, and that would require him taking a $6,484,851 qualifying offer - an extremely risky maneuver.
The Kings had a better sense of their spending power when re-signing Barnes. They gave him a frontloaded contract, because they knew they had little use for all their cap space last summer. Barnes' declining salary opens more options later.
Sacramento can't yet know how it'll use its cap space next summer. There's upside in not extending Hield, counting him at his low cap hold ($14,583,623), using other cap space then exceeding the cap to re-sign him. That route closes with an extension, which would mean his actual first-year salary in the extension would be his cap number as soon as the offseason begins.
If Hield plays well and signs an offer sheet elsewhere, the Kings could always match it. They didn't have that leverage over Barnes.
The best argument for paying Barnes so much was that he's a solid player and Sacramento struggles to attract top talent. It might have been worth overpaying him just to have him.
This is the downside, though. Now, other players want outsized deals from the Kings, too.