The Thunder Have A New “Draft And Stash” Strategy

It was announced last Friday the Thunder’s Development League affiliate would relocate from Tulsa to Oklahoma City next season. Compared to everything else that’s happened this off-season, this seems like just a footnote on the news feed. But given the Thunder’s innovative strategy with how they employ their D-League roster, it could have a huge impact on the team and the league going forward.

To understand what the Thunder are doing, we have to go back to last season, when they drafted Grant Jerrett in the second round. Instead of signing him to a traditional rookie-scale contract, there was an apparently mutual understanding between the player and the team, and Jerrett — who was unsigned — entered the D-League draft instead.

The tricky thing was, Jerrett could have gone to any team in the D-League in the draft, and the Thunder ran the risk of not being able to control the development of their own draft pick. So, a trade was made on draft night to make sure he landed on the Tulsa 66ers.

The strategy is sound, in that it allows someone like Jerrett to get ample playing time instead of sitting at the end of the bench in Oklahoma City. But there’s also a financial trade-off. As a second rounder, Jerrett could have been a benchwarmer on the Thunder for approximately $500,000. But because he went unsigned and chose the D-League, he was making much less than that.

Near the end of the season, the Thunder signed Jerrett to a pro-rated NBA contract, and last week it was announced they had re-signed him. There’s quite a bit of trust between the two sides. There’s the opportunity for playing time for the player, and there’s a financial saving for the team.

The Thunder appear to be employing the same strategy with Josh Huestis, their first-round pick from this year’s draft. It is expected he will also pass on a rookie contract and sign with the D-League. This year, players are free to sign with the D-League team of their choosing, so it’s expected Huestis will sign with the 66ers.

The Thunder would essentially be employing the draft and stash strategy most teams have with Europeans who are still under contract overseas, but instead they are doing so with a domestic prospect and will be able to control and monitor his development more closely without the finances normally incurred.

Or, as Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman explains:

Huestis would represent another significant milestone.

His selection, which on draft night was viewed as a duplicate of last year’s pick, Andre Roberson, also would make more sense. 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 forward-thinking at its finest.

By going this route, the Thunder saves a roster spot and some precious salary for a season but also retains Huestis’ restricted free agency rights at the end of his fourth NBA season, affording OKC with the first chance to extend his contract.

In a league where teams are constantly looking for any edge they can find in the system, the Thunder might be ushering in the next deviation from the norm, a fluctuation all teams may soon try and exploit.

What do you think?

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