Thunder could make Huestis 1st 'domestic draft-and-stash' 1st-round pick

by Jul 20, 9:17 AM

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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.

Mayberry explains:

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.

Jul 24, 7:18 PM

Report: NBPA supports Josh Huestis' deal with Thunder

by Jul 24, 7:18 PM

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If you were expecting the players union to interject in the dealing between Josh Huestis and the Oklahoma City Thunder, think again.

In his all-encompassing report on the situation Thursday, Grantland's Zach Lowe cites Huestis' agent Mitchell Butler, who argues that this move - which you can read about in detail in the posts below - is a positive one from the union's perspective.

From Lowe:

Butler says he discussed the plan with the players’ union, which has not registered any vigorous objection. The deal may work as a huge plus for Huestis, though it did push one likely first-round pick back into the second round — and out of the guaranteed money range.

The union actually views the Huestis move as an example of player empowerment that could have major long-term implications. “This is an example of the player flipping the script,” says Ron Klempner, the interim executive director of the union. “The player essentially drafted his team.”

The NBA itself may still take issue with the arrangement, which will see Huestis forgo his guaranteed rookie scale contract for a year while he earns peanuts in the D-League, as pre-draft discussions about compensation are prohibited under the league's by-laws.

Lowe's article also discusses the possibility of Huestis' situation changing the way the league handles negotiations for first-round picks, but Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman does a good job providing the counter to abolishing the rookie wage scale:

The veterans who comprise the NBPA wouldn't go for it. Every member of the union has already gone through the draft, so they won’t vote to have their wages implicitly cut in order to pay future rookies. Veterans getting paid less than new draft picks was a big point of contention in the Glenn Robinson/Larry Johnson era, and even if such an arrangement helped players collectively, it doesn't help voting players (i.e., players already in the league/union) at all.

What we're left with, then, is an interesting experiment for player, agent and team, and a response from the league that may or may not come.

Feature photo courtesy of Ed Szczepanski / USA Today Sports

Jul 23, 5:07 PM

Report: Josh Huestis agreed to D-League stash before selection, legality somewhat unclear

by Jul 23, 5:07 PM

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As it turns out, Stanford forward Josh Huestis did agree to be stashed in the D-League this coming season prior to being selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the No. 29 pick in the draft.

This news came Thursday, via a series of tweets from Grantland's Zach Lowe, who spoke with Huestis' agent:

This makes his situation with the Thunder quite complex, as explained more in the post below. Briefly: teams are prohibited from discussing compensation details with players before they are selected, and Huestis agreeing to play in the D-Legaue without signing his rookie scale contract pretty clearly establishes that the sides discussed contractual matters.

It's simply difficult to establish a reason for this plan to have unfolded that benefits Huestis. His agent said that it was a matter of securing draft position, and that Huestis would only have done this for the Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs, which makes some sense but still seems very grey.

It's also in part because Huestis did not want to play in Europe, which may be the team's only hope here of justifying it from a player perspective - he didn't want to play overseas, and so this was the best way to assure he was drafted by a good organization that would develop him, and the D-League salary doesn't matter as much if overseas play was not an option.

Still, the issue isn't Huestis' choice as much as it is the pre-draft agreement, which (again, see the post below) flies against the letter of the NBA's by-laws. His agent told Lowe the deal was pre-arranged, and it is a matter of compensation considering the No. 29 pick simply assigned to the D-League would earn at minimum $724,400, while a player signing in the D-League outright, like Huestis, is capped at $25,500.

This has the possibility to become a complicated matter for both sides ahead of the start of the season, and it seems likely the league and player's union will both look into it.