Josh Huestis

Are Thunder skirting NBA protocol by sending first-round pick Josh Huestis to D-League?

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Beyond Bruno Caboclo (No. 20 by the Raptors), Josh Huestis was the most surprising first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

Huestis, selected No. 29 by the Thunder, was expected to go in the 50s.

Why did Oklahoma City reach for the Stanford forward? Maybe the Thunder had a plan all along.

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

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.

By taking Huestis with the second-to-last selection in the first round, the Thunder secured another critically cost-effective rookie scale contract. The difference is that standard four-year deal — two guaranteed years and two team options in the final two seasons — would come on the back end of a preliminary year in the D-League and ensures the Thunder would have Huestis developing in its program for at least five seasons.

It’s not clear why Mayberry believes Huestis will decline to sign his rookie-scale contract and sign in the D-League instead, but Mayberry is extremely plugged-in. I doubt this is pure speculation.

If I were speculating, though, I’d guess the Thunder and Huestis made this arrangement before the draft. Maybe Oklahoma City drafted the best player willing to defer his rookie contract.

Such a plan would have advantages for both the Thunder and Huestis.

The Thunder wouldn’t use one of 15 roster spots on Huestis and wouldn’t count his salary against the 2014-15 payroll if he doesn’t sign. Next year, they could sign him to the rookie scale when they’re further from the luxury-tax line. Or if Huestis doesn’t pan out, they’re under no obligation to sign him (though they would lose his rights if they don’t tender him an offer).

For Huestis, this would probably have been the most direct path to a guaranteed contract. If he went in the second round as expected, he could have been sent to the D-League regardless. This way, presumably, there’s a larger promised offer at the end of the road.

However, such an arrangement would have probably violated the NBA by-laws, which state (hat tip: Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders):

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.

Perhaps there are ways around the rule with careful wording in pre-draft negotiations, but that’s dicey. The NBA generally enforces the spirit, not the verbiage, of its rules.

Brass tacks, here are the numbers involved.

If Huestis signs his rookie-scale contract as nearly every first-round pick does, he’d make between $734,400 and $1,101,600 this season with a guaranteed second year paying between $767,520 and $1,151,280.

Various unofficial salaries have been reported for the D-League, and I’m sure some of the confusion can be attributed to rising rates. But the very highest figure I’ve seen is “a little over $30,000 per year” from Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball.

For Huestis to give up so much money was either pre-arranged or is a huge favor on his part for the Thunder. The NBA – or more likely the National Basketball Players Association – might want to look into what happened here. The union certainly doesn’t want a precedent of first-round picks voluntarily sacrificing salary for owners to save money.

Huestis – unless he and Oklahoma City arranged this scheme before the draft, which would cause its own set of issues that might be outside his control – might want to give this deal another look, too.

If he believes the D-League is the best way for him to develop, he could sign his rookie-scale contract, and the Thunder could still assign him there. He’d make his full salary and count against the parent club’s 15-man roster. But that’s the Thunder’s problem – not his.

To keep Huestis’ rights, the Thunder must have offered him a contract already worth at least 80 percent of scale ($734,400 this season and $767,520 next). He can accept that at any time.

Oklahoma City drafted Grant Jerrett in 2013 and didn’t sign him until late in the season after he played in the D-League. This offseason, the Thunder rewarded him with a multi-year contract.

That show of faith should give Huestis some confidence, but there’s a major difference in the situations. Jerrett, a second-round pick, didn’t get a guaranteed contract on condition of being drafted. Huestis, if Oklahoma City wants to retain his rights, does. That gives Huestis much more leverage.

We’re moving toward a 30-team D-League where every NBA team has its own affiliate. Then, a new set of rules will govern roster and cap limits.

For now, though, with the rules in place, something appears to be amiss. Maybe the only issue is Huestis’ logic, but if it’s anything deeper, the NBA and players union might get involved.

Draymond Green tells Trail Blazers to call timeout during Warriors run (video)

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Klay Thompson capped a 9-0 game-tying fourth-quarter run with a 3-pointer, and Draymond Green had a message for the Trail Blazers:

Call timeout.

Terry Stotts did, but that didn’t stop the bleeding. Their swagger running high, the Warriors pulled away for a 110-99 win.

Three Things to Watch in Hawks/Cavaliers Game 2: Atlanta needs more Kyle Korver

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 2: Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks drives around LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena on May 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Hawks 104-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers held serve in Game 1 thanks to some late game LeBron James heroics, but they blew a big lead and the Hawks didn’t make it easy. What did we see in Game 1 we should keep and eye on in Game 2? Here are three questions that will get answers this game:

1) Can Atlanta get Kyle Korver open for some shots? Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type: J.R. Smith did a fantastic defensive job shutting down Kyle Korver. He had plenty of help, for example, they switched pick-and-rolls which sometimes meant LeBron was on him. However, the idea didn’t change — the Cavaliers made shutting down Kover a top priority. One of the best three-point shooters in the game and a master at quietly finding space, Korver had just one attempt from beyond the arc in Game 1 (a miss from the top of the key). They need his spacing to make their offense flow.

For Atlanta, if Korver is getting that much attention other Hawks to hit their threes — Atlanta took 34 but hit just 11 (32.4 percent) in Game 1. The Hawks entire offense is to score at the rim and from three, and if one of those isn’t clicking they are in trouble. The Hawks moved the ball well and got some clean looks from three, but missed them. Those need to fall to win Game 2.

2) How quickly will Hawks go to Kent Bazemore on Kevin Love, meaning Paul Millsap/Thabo Sefolosha on LeBron James? Atlanta started Game 2 with Bazemore on LeBron, and the Cavaliers quickly tried to exploit that in the post — LeBron is too big and too strong and will get the shots he wants (the Hawks don’t have a great one-on-one option to go against LeBron). Mike Budenholzer made a smart switch putting Bazemore on Love, who prefers to live on the perimeter, and let Millsap handle LeBron. Millsap is a quality defender, and LeBron doesn’t take guys off the dribble like he used to, this matchup worked for a while, expect the Hawks to go to it quickly in Game 2.

The converse of that matchup question is can the Cavaliers keep Al Horford and Paul Millsap in check again? The All-Star front line of the Atlanta Hawks was 10-of-32 shooting and were not the forces the Hawks need on that end of the floor, the Hawks need better efficiency from their starting bigs.

3) Can the combo of Dennis Schroder and Jeff Teague balance out Kyrie Irving? If there was an unexpected star of Game 1, it was Schroder, the German bench point guard of the Hawks who supplanted Jeff Teague for key minutes late in the game. Schroder — Boston fans’ favorite villain in the first round (he was booed every time he touched the ball after some run-ins with Isaiah Thomas) — had 27 points and six assists in Game 1. The problem for the Hawks is Schroder is just not that consistent, he hit 5-of-10 from three in Game 1 and it’s unlikely he’s going to replicate that effort in Game 2. Look for Budenholzer to play Teague and Schroder together for stretches in this team and see if the combo can unlock the Atlanta offense.

The Hawks need a lot from their guards because we know Irving will have a good game. Irving had 21 points and eight assists in Game 1, plus a key block on Schroder late, and it feels like he can do much better. The combination of Teague and Schroder need to keep him in check to keep the Hawks within striking distance.

Watch Dwyane Wade’s game sealing steal, lay-up in overtime

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Of course it was Dwyane Wade.

He can summon up the athletic, play-making younger version of himself for a game here or a stretch there, and he did that again in Game 1 against the Raptors Tuesday. He had 24 points on the night, and along with Goran Dragic helped lead the Heat to a road win to start the series.

That includes making the steal on DeMar DeRozan and getting the bucket that sealed the win. Wade was determined in this one.

Warriors’ defense, Klay Thompson take over fourth quarter, earn Game 2 win

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Only one team in this series can crank up their defense enough to  win them games.

The Warriors’ offense feeds off that stingy defense — with or without Stephen Curry in the lineup, again Tuesday it was without — and the combination can lead to big runs.

Such as a 34-12 fourth quarter. It was historic, as our own Dan Feldman pointed out on twitter.

Golden State trailed by 17 at one point but came on in the fourth with a defensive energy that held Damian Lillard to 0-of-3 shooting and his entire Portland team to 26.5 percent shooting. Those miss shots fueled transition buckets and opportunities — Klay Thompson had 10 of his 27 points on the night in the fourth — and the Warriors roared back for a 110-99 victory.

Golden State now leads the series 2-0 as it heads to Portland, with Game 3 not until Saturday. The biggest question is whether Curry will play in that game, or will the Warriors use their position of strength to get him more rest (as they did in the Houston series up 2-0)?

The best player on the floor in Game 2 was Draymond Green, who finished with 17 points (on 20 shots), 14 rebound and seven assists. But that’s not where the damage he does starts — it’s on defense. His ability to defend the five, then show out high on pick-and-rolls to cut off Lillard or C.J. McCollum and take away their shots from three. With Curry out, Green also spends a lot of time as the guy initiating the Warriors offense. He crashes the boards. He protects the paint, including a key block late on Mason Plumlee. Green did it all.

Portland raced out to a lead using their vintage style — their defense wasn’t that good, but it was good enough (especially with a cold Thompson who kept missing open looks), and their offense was hitting everything. With the Warriors missing shots it was Portland using the opportunity to run — and it was the Warriors defenders doing a poor job of recognizing the shooters and closing them out. So the opposite of Game 1.

Portland was also getting buckets from Al-Farouq Aminu — 10 first quarter points — and that’s always a good sign because he’s the guy (well, him and Maurice Harkless) that the Warriors will live with shooting.

Still, you knew the run was coming. The Warriors went on a 14-2 run to make it close as the second half started to wind down. But then Portland responded with some real poise and an 8-0 run of their own. Portland was getting their buckets and had a 59-51 run at the half. They continued to hold that lead through the third quarter thanks to a red-hot Damian Lillard, who had 16 points in the quarter.

But again, you knew the run was coming — and this time it was fueled by the Warriors defense. Festus Ezeli was a big part of that, his defensive presence in the paint helped turn things around, he was setting big screens to free up Thompson and others, plus he had eight points of his own in the quarter.

When the game got tight Portland missed seven in a row down the stretch, and that sealed the Blazers fate. Meanwhile, the Warriors kept hitting shots, and the Blazers have no great options to change up the defense and alter that dynamic. Even without Curry, the versatility of the Warriors makes them tough to slow, let alone stop. 

Going home, maybe the Trial Blazers can hit some difficult shots and hold off a Warriors charge in the fourth quarter.

Or, maybe Stephen Curry is back, and the Warriors just get better.