When the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Josh Huestis with the 29th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, there was a murmur of surprise throughout the basketball community. I certainly wasn’t a big fan of the pick, as I felt it was much of what they already had taken the previous year in Andre Roberson.
However, the Thunder apparently do have an ultimate goal with Huestis, and it may lead to a complete revolution of how the D-League is used to develop draft picks. According to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, the team may stash Huestis with their D-League affiliate, and thus make him the first domestic “draft-and-stash” first round pick.
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.
NBA teams have long drafted international players and left them overseas, developing on someone else’s dime. But if Huestis signs with the 66ers as expected, he’ll be an American-born, American-bred prospect who, as a first-round pick, could be the flag-bearer for how the NBA envisions the future of the D-League.
There’s obviously a lot to unpack there, so let’s start with how legal something like this is given that typically first round picks are considered to have guaranteed contracts. According to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, there are differing considerations to be made. The one that seems most applicable here is this:
If the player is already under contract to, or signs a contract with a non-NBA team, the team retains the player’s draft rights for one year after the player’s obligation to the non-NBA team ends. Essentially, the clock stops as long as the player plays pro ball outside the NBA. Players are not included in team salary during the regular season while the player is under contract with a non-NBA team.
The question here is what constitutes a non-NBA team. Does a clear D-League affiliate count as a non-NBA team? Here is the what Coon says there:
The NBA Developmental League (also known as the NBA D-League or NBADL) is a separate league run in affiliation with the NBA.
NBA D-League rosters are normally 10 players, but can expand to 12 to accommodate assigned NBA players. In some cases where one team might be overstocked with assignees or players at a particular position, players might be reassigned to a different team. NBA teams do not control the playing time their assignees receive — that is up to the discretion of the NBA D-League coaches.
So here, we have some divergent language on how this would affect the Huestis situation. The D-League is a separately run league in affiliation with the NBA. My interpretation is that because this is a “separately run league,” that would qualify as Huestis agreeing to sign a contract with a non-NBA team, meaning the clock would stop on his draft rights for as long as he plays in the D-League. This is obviously beneficial to the Thunder, because they would get to still control his development — in a way that seems counter to what Coon says above about D-League playing time controls — and get to extend his rookie level contract for an extra season.
Given the fact that not every D-League team has an affiliate, that’s where competitive advantages and disadvantages come into play. Is it unfair that the Thunder have a direct D-League affiliate (that now will be in Oklahoma City next year) so close to home and will get to control Huestis’s development? That will be up to the NBA to decide, although my guess is that they will allow it. The D-League is an important part of the NBA’s future and they have deployed numerous resources into its expansion. Allowing a team to do something like this and reap benefits from it would most likely convince other teams to get on board with it.
The larger question I have is more why Huestis would agree to something like this. He would be resigning himself to a year of a $25,000 salary, or the maximum currently offered by the D-League. That’s quite a drop off from the ~$1 million salary that he would be entitled to as a member of the Thunder this season. If the team is refusing to sign him to his rookie scale deal, then he enters the problem of his draft rights being frozen if he signs with another non-NBA team. Europe could offer him far more money than the maximum D-League salary, but does he really want to go down that route and risk the potential of never realizing his NBA dream? At least in the Oklahoma City D-League affiliate, he would be seen every day by NBA coaches.
It will be interesting to watch this situation unfold. Regardless of what plays out with Huestis and Oklahoma City, the D-League seems heading this way even if the infrastructure isn’t totally there yet for it to become common practice. But if the Thunder can pull this off, it’ll be a large step towards creating the groundwork necessary to making the D-League a full minor-league system.