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When the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Stanford forward Josh Huestis with the No. 29 pick in the NBA Draft in June, they raised some eyebrows.
Huestis, while a decent prospect thanks to his perimeter defense, wasn't projected to be a first round pick by pretty much anyone. The final mock drafts actually had him on the second-round bubble, not the first-round bubble. It was also surprising because the Thunder had selected Mitch McGary a few picks earlier, and they seemed unlikely to bring two rookies into camp.
But the Thunder have built up some credibility when it comes to this kind of thing, so it was largely forgotten about.
Until Saturday, when Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman raised some eyebrows of his own by writing about the Thunder's plan for Huestis this season: make him the first ever domestic draft-and-stash first-round pick.
Two Thunder draft picks remain unsigned, and the arrival of the 66ers in Oklahoma City stands as confirmation that they’re likely destined to spend the year competing in the D-League.
For guard Semaj Christon, the 55th overall selection out of Xavier, it’s a natural landing spot.
But with Josh Huestis, a first-round selection, the Thunder could be on the verge of breaking ground.
As the 29th overall pick, Huestis would become the first player selected in the first round to forgo his rookie season to sign in the D-League. In other words, he’d be the first-ever domestic “draft-and-stash” player.
As a reminder, teams will often draft a player in the first round and "stash" him overseas for a while, letting the player develop while keeping him off of a team's books and keeping them from having to burn one of just 15 roster spots on developing a young player. This is common in the second round, too.
Stashing players in the D-League, however, is a bit of a new beast. Playing internationally at least affords players an appreciable salary and so can be seen as a bit of a win-win trade-off in place of the guaranteed contract that comes with being a first-round pick. The maximum salary in the D-League, however, is just $25,500, far less than the $918,000 scale attached to the No. 29 pick this year (with a salary range beginning at $734,400 but almost surely landing at $1.1 million).
The New Orleans Pelicans did something similar with second-round pick Pierre Jackson last season, though that was in part because Jackson initially signed overseas before going to the D-League. And again, a second-round pick has more incentive to follow this path without a guaranteed deal.
The incentives for Huestis, however, are far less clear. He'd get more playing time, of course, but that's probably not worth it considering the enormous pay cut and since, if on the actual roster, he could still get that playing time if the Thunder simply optioned him to the Tulsa 66ers (who are moving to OKC shortly).
If he agrees to the strategy - he could, in theory, decide to go overseas and make substantially more money - it may lead to a discussion about whether the Thunder had agreed to such a plan with Huestis before drafting him. That, of course, goes against the league's by-laws, as pointed out by Nate Duncan.
Section 7.04(a, b) of the by-laws reads:
Prior to the annual NBA Draft, Members may have preliminary discussions with players eligible for the Draft, but may not discuss the matter of compensation.
Members may not, directly or indirectly, have or engage in, or attempt to have or engage in, any discussions, communications, or contacts whatsoever with any player who has remaining intercollegiate basketball eligibility or is otherwise ineligible to be selected in an upcoming Draft.
The risk here for Huestis just doesn't make a lot of sense, forgoing guaranteed money and assuming injury risk for no obvious payoff beyond a possible back-room promise.
In that case, Huestis could have agreed to be stashed in the D-League for a year in return for being taken in the first round, which gives a player a four-year contract with two guaranteed years once signed (a second-round pick is free to negotiate any deal and generally signs closer to the league minimum). That would explain how a fringe draft pick ended up in the first round, anyway.
It's hard to lay accusations beyond this kind of speculation, but the situation at least has some very smart basketball minds asking questions.