Why Huestis is on the Blue
Josh Huestis was selected by the Thunder last Summer with the 29th pick in the NBA Draft. As a first round pick, Huestis was supposed to sign a league mandated four year rookie contract. But Huestis elected to forego the guaranteed contract and sign with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder's D-League affiliate. In fact, Huestis may have only been picked in the first round because he was willing to forego the contract. Huestis simply was not considered to be a first round talent by most NBA teams. NBADraft.net doesn't even list Huestis in their final 2014 mock, and DraftExpress has Josh all the way down at #47.
There's been a good amount of outrage over Huestis' decision, most notably from SBNation's own Tom Ziller. In a Hook column from last year, Ziller describes how Huestis is hurting the player union in the long term:
If true, Huestis does get something in the deal: a guarantee of being an NBA player and signing an NBA contract ... someday. All he has to do is play for basically nothing for one year, something he has experience with thanks to the NCAA.
But all this is a violation of the players' union he'll join when he does sign that contract and it's an affront to other prospects who got bumped to the second round by the apparent deal. What Huestis really does is either let the Thunder flout roster size rules or allow team owner Clay Bennett to avoid paying the luxury tax. If more teams and prospects use this method to get around the salary cap, it lets owners get away with keeping D-League wages dirt cheap. There's no reason D-League players shouldn't make a living wage. The NBA is a $4 billion enterprise. There are a couple hundred D-League players who don't have NBA contracts any given year. It's not going to kill the owners to sprinkle some more dough on them.
How Huestis did this season
Regardless, Huestis has now completed his rookie campaign with the Blue, starting 43 of 44 games. Statistically, Huestis leaves a lot to be desired. Josh only managed to score 10.3 points per game on 37% from the floor. There were ten other Blue players with higher averages, and all of them at least played in 8 games. Huestis also barely has more assists than turnovers, both at about one a game. Even Huestis' three point shooting is only barely acceptable, at 31%. The defensive end certainly brings more promise for Huestis. Josh's 1.6 blocks a game were a team high, and 5.7 rebounds a game is good for the small forward position. But with only half a steal a game, Huestis is certainly no Thabo.
Looking at video from Huestis' campaign, it's apparent that he knows how to make smart decisions about where to be on offense and defense. Huestis can certainly nail an open three or finish for you in transition, even though he won't be able to generate much for you on his own. Lastly, Huestis works within the flow of the offense very well despite his limited skillset, and knows what his options are.
The Thunder's roster space/luxury tax situation
Oklahoma City had 15 players on the roster at the end of last season. 13 of them have guaranteed contracts for next season. The two that don't, Singler and Kanter, both figure to be a part of the Thunder's future. Kanter's re-signing will be a no-brainer, simply because his offensive skill in the post is something that OKC desperately needs. Singler doesn't seem as important, but Presti has publicly said that he wants to continue working with Singler. Also, in his exit interview, Singler confirmed that he wanted to return.
This leaves the Thunder in a huge pickle. Oklahoma City stands to return with a full roster for 2015-16, and they still have a 2015 first round draft pick to account for. This time, the pick is at #14, meaning that OKC will certainly have to pay the salary next season. This could mean something as simple as finding a way to release a little used bench player, like Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb, or Steve Novak. But it could also mean a large-scale trade with big consequences for next season.
Last year, the Thunder had a team payroll of $78.8 Million. The Luxury Tax level was $77.0 Million. As a result, the Thunder were $1.8 million over the tax line, and paid a total of $2.7 Million to the league. 2014-15 the first season in team history in which the Thunder have paid a luxury tax. As a result, the Thunder have now paid luxury taxes in one of the past four years. If OKC exceeds the luxury tax line for two of the next three seasons, they will trigger the dreaded repeater tax. The repeater tax is dreaded because it costs a lot more money than the luxury tax does. Furthermore, for every extra $5 Million the Thunder go over the luxury tax, the Thunder will have to pay more.
Next year, without the re-signing of Kanter and Singler, the Thunder will have a team payroll of $78.2 Million. The luxury tax for 2015-16 will be $81.0 Million. With the signings of Kanter, Singler, and a draft pick, the Thunder will certainly be well over that threshold.
What Josh Huestis thinks
And now, for the reason I actually wrote this column. Huestis gave an interview to Scott Mansch of the Great Falls Tribune on Saturday. The conversation eventually turned towards Josh's contract and role with the Thunder. Here's the relevant section:
Q: You posted good numbers, yet I know you're regarded as somewhat of a defensive specialist. What do you think the Thunder thinks your role will be down the road?
A: The thing I'm looking at is just being a guy who helps his team win. That's the way I thought going to Stanford and that's what got me on the court. We're definitely one of the most talented teams in the entire league, so I just want to be the guy who comes in and plays defense and fills whatever role they want me to fill. I just want to help them win. We're so close to being a championship team and I want to help them take that next step.
Q: What's your contractual status with the Thunder?
A: This will be a big offseason for me. We haven't had the chance yet to sit down and discuss it with them. It will come down to the commitments I make and what the team decides. I can't make any guesses on that yet.
Q: Your rights are still held by the Thunder, correct?
Q: If you had to go back to the D-League for another year would you be OK with that?
A: I'm willing to do whatever it is they believe will be best for me. There are a lot of paths to take to the NBA. If that was fine I'd be OK with it as long as I knew it would make me a better player.
Definitely check out the full interview for some insights into Huestis' game and lifestyle. But, given the Thunder's logjam at the end of the roster, it would certainly be in OKC's interest to keep Huestis in the D-League for another year. And if Huestis' numbers are any indication, he's probably not ready for the NBA yet. But at 23 years old, how much more growing can Josh Huestis really do?
In any case, the book on this certainly isn't written yet. The Thunder have over $8 million in expiring contracts and a late lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. The potential for even more roster moves certainly is there, and any number of them could free up space for Huestis. But, at least for now, it just doesn't make sense to cut Jones, Lamb, or Novak on a financial level. However you look at the situation, Huestis' fate as a basketball player next season looks to be squarely in the hands of Sam Presti.
What do you think the Thunder should do with Josh Huestis? What will they do? Drop a comment and let us know!