Clay BennettLost in the mounting pile of Kevin Love trade rumors is a little nugget out of Cheapskate…err…Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, where Thunder owner Clay Bennett is up to his penny pinching ways again. A few days ago, The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry reported that the Thunder planned to assign recent first round draft pick Josh Huestis to the 66ers — the team’s D-League affiliate — for his “rookie” season.

Assigning draft picks to D-League affiliates is common practice for newly drafted rookies, while it’s equally common for teams to stash foreign players in Europe for a couple years. However, if Huestis does end up on the 66ers — which seems darn near a certainty right now — he’ll be the first American-born first rounder assigned to the D-League.

Fulfilling his duty as a Thunder reporter, Mayberry sang the praises of the move, noting that it’s a big step towards fulfilling the NBA’s dream of having a full minor league system with 30 affiliates owned and operated by each of the league’s 30 teams. Mayberry also notes the lack of roster spots currently available, meaning a D-League assignment is necessary.

Of course, all of that is pretty thin smokescreen for the (likely) real story, which Tom Ziller at SB Nation shed some light on:

(Thunder GM) Presti, according to Mayberry, plans to convince Huestis to hold off on signing his $750,000 guaranteed contract for the 2014-15 season and instead sign a contract around $25,000 to join the NBA D-League for a year. Huestis would then sign his Thunder deal a year from now or maybe two, at which point the standard guaranteed rookie contract would begin.

If Huestis signs a D-League contract, and plays the entire season at that level, he wouldn’t be signing his guaranteed rookie contract until next summer, or — worse — the following summer. At that point, his actual guaranteed “rookie” deal would kick in, after one or two of years of pulling in minimum wage (not NBA minimum wage, mind you, but something more along the lines of American citizen minimum wage).

Before we go further, here’s a little reminder of who we’re dealing with: this is the second year in a row in which the Thunder have gone cheap on a rookie. Last summer, it offered Andre Roberson 80% of the rookie scale in order to slide in just under the luxury tax threshold. The move was widely criticized, as rookies are often slotted 120% of the scale, or, at the very least, 100%, with incentives to reach the 120% goal.

What they’re doing with Huestis is far worse. They literally do not want to pay him out of fear of going into the luxury tax. But they want the asset, so they’re willing to screw him for as long as it takes before justifying the very small fraction of the payroll — expected to rise significantly over the next two years — it’d require to stick him on the end of the bench.

Meanwhile, Dan Feldman, of Pro Basketball Talk, has a viable theory as to how this all went down:

If I were speculating, though, I’d guess the Thunder and Huestis made this arrangement before the draft. Maybe Oklahoma City drafted the best player willing to defer his rookie contract.

Such a plan would have advantages for both the Thunder and Huestis.

The Thunder wouldn’t use one of 15 roster spots on Huestis and wouldn’t count his salary against the 2014-15 payroll if he doesn’t sign. Next year, they could sign him to the rookie scale when they’re further from the luxury-tax line. Or if Huestis doesn’t pan out, they’re under no obligation to sign him (though they would lose his rights if they don’t tender him an offer).

For Huestis, this would probably have been the most direct path to a guaranteed contract. If he went in the second round as expected, he could have been sent to the D-League regardless. This way, presumably, there’s a larger promised offer at the end of the road.

Well, that doesn’t sound shady at all! In all seriousness, though, such tactics may violate NBA bylaws:

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.

What, Clay Bennett skirting/breaking the rules for his own benefit? Well I never…err…nevermind.

[SBNation, via BDL]