Players union approves of Thunder’s Josh Huestis arrangement

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The Thunder and Josh Huestis have agreed for the No. 29 pick to turn down his rookie-scale NBA contract and play on a D-League contract next season, an arrangement made before the draft.

The deal is good for the Thunder, who won’t have to pay Huestis this year and now could have five years to develop him before free agency.

And it’s good for Huestis, who probably wouldn’t have been picked in the first round without this promise and is presumably now line for a rookie-scale deal in a year.

There’s only one catch.

NBA by-laws state:

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.

As I’ve covered, I can’t even imagine a workaround to the pre-draft negotiations that would technically avoid compensation discussion, let alone adhere to the spirit of the rule.

As a result, I thought the the National Basketball Players Association would have a big problem with Oklahoma City’s maneuvering. After all, the Thunder prevented another player from getting that rookie-scale contract by drafting Huestis and not giving it to him, a set of events that likely would not have occurred without pre-draft compensation talks.

Alas, the players union doesn’t find this problematic.

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

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.”

I agree that Huestis has exercised a level of control rarely exerted by players, and that’s good for him.

But the players union should not allow players to do whatever they want when their personal interests adversely affect other players. To the union’s credit, it has successfully bargained for many such restrictions.

The CBA prevents players from making less than a minimum salary. It prevents players from taking extreme pay decreases during a multi-year contract. It prevents players from re-negotiating contracts to reduce the compensation.

As a union, the NBPA restricts players in certain situations in order to protect players as a whole. Why not do that here?

If it seems there’s more to this situation, there is.

Lowe:

The deal is proof that teams have an ambivalent relationship with low-first-round picks, since Oklahoma City is dodging the rookie scale here, Klempner says. But that can cut both ways. “The rookie wage scale was management-imposed,” he says. “Players have always been in favor of more open negotiation for rookies. Maybe [Huestis] will lead to a full reconsideration of the rookie wage scale.”

In other words: If teams want wiggle room with someone picked in the late 20s, then they should grant that same negotiating wiggle room for Anthony Davis and Andrew Wiggins. The NBA has been down that road before, and would fight hard against any removal of the rookie scale, but Klempner has a point.

Before the NBA instituted the rookie scale, high draft picks like Glenn Robinson and Larry Johnson held out for huge contracts. Of course, the union would like to expand salary for all players, including rookies, and this could be an opening. Can you imagine how much Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker would make if they weren’t slotted into set salary ranges?

However, I believe Klempner is making a big miscalculation for two reasons.

1. I doubt the NBA uses the Huestis case as precedent for loosening the restrictions on first-round picks. The league fought for a rookie scale for a reason, and it won’t walk it back now. Even if it means paying picks like Huestis less, the top selections would more than make up for it. Open negotiations for draft picks is a money loser for the owners.

2. 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.

It seems as if the NBPA will let the Thunder slide in pursuit of a bigger goal – freer negotiations for first-round picks – it won’t achieve. Without the union pushing, I doubt the NBA will investigate whether Oklahoma City violated the by-law.

So, I guess the Thunder are mostly in the clear to watch Huestis get D-League compensation due to their pre-draft discussions.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.