A few days ago, Shams Charania from The Athletic reported Buddy Hield and the Pacers failed to reach common ground on a contract extension, which has thus ended in Hield and the team working together to find a trade.
On the surface, that might seem perfectly fine. A dissatisfied player gets moved off the roster, and the team can focus on the season ahead.
Only, this could turn into a digger issue for the Pacers that originally believed.
Indiana’s star point guard, Tyrese Haliburton, is looking at a major breakout season, and the team has upgraded virtually everywhere on the roster. Losing one of the league’s best shooters is going to shrink the floor, which isn’t exactly what the organization needs this year.
But let’s stick with the “one of the league’s best shooters” bit, because that’s underselling what Hield is. He’s, at worst, the third best three-point shooter in the NBA, with only Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson having real arguments ahead of him.
Hield isn’t just good. He’s outright elite from long range. He might not offer a lot in other areas, such as playmaking or on defense, but his ability to space the floor is among the best in the league. He’s one of those special few guys who opposing coaches have underlined pre-game by writing “Do not lose him” on the whiteboard.
Hield is a ridiculously efficient release valve, hitting 42.5% of his nightly 8.5 attempts from range. He’s hit 3.6 triples per night over the past five seasons, and his quick trigger allows him to get off shots against defenders closing in hard.
Removing that type of component isn’t going to make the Pacers better in the short-term, even if a Hield trade might help them clean up their books in the future.
This isn’t to say the Pacers will struggle. They signed Bruce Brown, drafted Jarace Walker, and traded for Obi Toppin. Irregardless of a Hield trade, they should be better. But that isn’t the point.
Whichever trade they find, odds are low the Pacers get a player in return who can help replace 288 three-pointers single handedly, as Hield knocked down last season.
Trading away Hield could force Haliburton into a situation where he has less room to operate with, and where the onus is on him to get up more long jumpers to provide the Pacers with a healthy shot diet from behind the arc.
As it stands right now, it’s fair to wonder if Indiana has enough long-range shooting to optimize spacing for Haliburton and especially Bennedict Mathurin, who has yet to prove he’s a reliable threat from downtown, as he connected on just 32.3% in his rookie season.
Perhaps the Pacers end up being fine, if their second-year players take a leap, and the new roster construction collectively helps fill the void, but it’s a hard sell given the combination of quantity and efficiency of Hield’s shooting.
Contractually, it’s also a curious situation. Hield is earning $19.2 million this season, and was looking for more years to be added on. What his price point was is anyone’s guess, and he might have tried to command too much for the Pacers to feel comfortable.
In this new salary cap reality we live in, however, where the cap is going to increase significantly in coming years, and the NBA looking at locking in a new TV deal before 2025, Hield’s demands would have had to have been almost outrageous for the Pacers to reject an extension.
Or, alternatively, the demand from Hield was perfectly reasonable, but the Pacers only wanted him for a discount given that he’s 31 and primarily a one-way player.
Regardless of the situation, Hield’s shooting is worth a substantial amount of money in the NBA, defensive warts and all. If the Pacers believe his spacing production is replaceable by the collective of the current team in place, that’s their prerogative. However, it’s fair to wonder if such a viewpoint is misplaced given how the crucial shooting is for teams trying to get better, and make a run for the playoffs.
It’ll be interesting to see how Indiana navigates this season without an elite spot-up shooter, and how they manage to replace Hield’s production in the aggregate.