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.