Josh Huestis, Troy Weaver

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.

D’Angelo Russell says it’s not easy being patient, waiting his turn behind Kobe

D'Angelo Russell Kobe Bryant
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TORONTO — For the rest of this season, the Los Angeles Lakers are Kobe Bryant‘s team.

Some Lakers’ fans have questioned why Byron Scott is still the coach despite an 11-44 record, and in part it’s because he gives deference to Kobe other coaches might not. Scott was brought in to help sell the Lakers’ history during the final years of Kobe’s career, he has done that. He lets the veteran Kobe do things he will not allow anyone else on the team to do.

Meanwhile, the next generation of Lakers are trying to wait patiently for their turn.

But when asked All-Star Weekend about playing with Kobe (who often has the ball in his hands), Lakers’ rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell didn’t sound patient.

“Honestly, it’s hard,” Russell said of playing with Kobe. “It’s not easy. He’s a guy that’s earned every shot he’s taken, earned every minute he’s given, so you feel like being a rookie, but you feel like you’ve worked to be in his position so early but you’ve just got to be patient.”

There are a couple ways you can look at this.

You can see it as a rookie hungry for minutes, for touches, for the chance to learn by doing. You should like that he has that drive, that confidence that he wants the rock. Russell has had the ball in his hands probably since fourth grade, being bumped down the pecking order — even for Kobe — is an adjustment.

Or, you can see this as a rookie who is a bit full of himself, a bit overconfident, someone who turns the ball over too much and needs to earn those touches. This is more Scott’s thinking.

I’d say a guy that is overconfident as a rookie and wants the ball in his hands sooner rather than later sounds a lot like Kobe.

 

DeMarcus Cousins has spent All-Star Weekend playing defense on trade, George Karl rumors

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings handles the ball during the Taco Bell Skills Challenge as part of NBA All-Star 2016 on February 13, 2016 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario Canada. 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.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
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TORONTO — DeMarcus Cousins is an All-Star and he just wants to enjoy it. Hang out with other elite players, take part in the Skills Competition, have dinner at Sotto Sotto, play in the ASG itself, chill with friends. Chill being the operative word considering the weather.

But for parts of the weekend, he has had to play defense, swatting away attempts to get him to slam coach George Karl or talk trade rumors that have him leaving Sacramento. Mention his friend Isaiah Thomas making it to All-Star Game and you get the gregarious Cousins, but when the other topics come up you can feel his frustration, and hear it in his clipped answers.

“First of all, I can’t control the trade (rumors) and I can’t control if I’m traded or not…” Cousins said. “But I do want to be in Sacramento, and I know everybody in Sacramento knows that.”

Cousins isn’t getting traded. Teams may call the Kings, but they get shot down quickly (then those teams leak the rumor they called, making them look good to their fan base for trying). For one, the Kings have a franchise cornerstone piece under a reasonable contract, that’s not someone you trade unless forced to. Second, owner Vivek Ranadive loves him. Third, and this is key, the Kings open a new arena in downtown Sacramento next season — you don’t trade your best and most popular player, the face of your marketing program in the city, while you’re trying to sell luxury boxes and sponsorships in a new arena.

Cousins has also batted down questions attempting to get him to slam George Karl.

“I can go long term with any coach, but that’s not my decision….” Cousins said. “He’s a free, open-minded coach, he lets his players play. I think every player appreciates that.”

He was more direct with deserving new basketball Hall of Fame journalist David Aldridge of NBA.com in a video (and he’s laughing more and in more of a joking mood in the video than how this quote reads):

“I’m tired of it. Stop trying to make a story out of it, we’re fine. Our only goal this season is to make the playoffs. That’s it. All the other stuff, just stop, it’s not necessary.”

Undoubtedly there is some tension in and around the organization with Karl, although he will be around through the end of the season. However, the one thing that was clear with this team going back to Summer League — when the core guys bonded on a plane trip together to Las Vegas (and doing the other things one might do in Vegas) — the locker room is pretty solid.

“Throughout all this, the one thing that’s been good about the whole situation is the guys in the locker room stay together,” Cousins said. “There hasn’t been any separation.”

It seems Karl has never found a way to reach and inspire that group.

Ask Cousins about the rest of the season and you get some variation of “just stay positive.” He admits that’s not been easy after some tough losses of late, but it’s what they need to do to make a run.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the season, but just find a way to remain positive and get over the hump,” he said. 

That may be easier said than done.

But, at least, Cousins will get the chance to enjoy All-Star weekend.

Can we just relive that epic Dunk Contest one more time? Here’s the mixtape.

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TORONTO — Talking to NBA people, fans, and media around Toronto Sunday it seems every conversation starts with some version of “last night’s Dunk Contest was INSANE!

Because it was.

Andre Drummond threw down an impressive two-hand power slam with an assist from soccer playing Steve Nash. Will Barton‘s first dunk might have won him the contest in some weaker years. And we’re not even talking about them because of the eye-popping show that Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine put on.

Before we move on and talk trade rumors or actual All-Star Game, or whatever is coming next, can we just bask in the joy of that dunk contest one more time? The fine folks at NBA.com put together this mixtape version of the Dunk Contest, I’m passing it along.

Savor this people, it doesn’t get any better than what we witnessed Saturday night.

Michael Jordan to Klay Thompson: “Go ahead and break” Bulls’ 72-win record

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 25:  Owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan, watches on during their game against the Washington Wizards at Time Warner Cable Arena on November 25, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NBA - 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Barring a major injury, it seems almost inevitable at this point that the Warriors will surpass the 1996 Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season and vault themselves into the conversation of the greatest NBA teams in history. All year, members of that ’96 Bulls team have weighed in comparing the teams, but one guy who hasn’t given his thoughts publicly is Michael Jordan.

Apparently, during All-Star Weekend in Toronto, Jordan gave Klay Thompson his blessing for the Warriors to go for 73. Via CSN’s Rosalyn Gold-Onwude:

Not that the Warriors need anybody’s permission to go after the record, obviously. But it had to be cool for Thompson to hear directly from Jordan that he respects what the Warriors are doing and wants them to break his own record. In all likelihood, they’ll do it.