Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early wasn’t a lock to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft last month. A lot of draft gurus, however, predicted him to go in that first round, one as high as No. 18.
Early dropped into the second round, where the Knicks grabbed him and it seemed like a reasonably happy ending for a hometown kid. Players drop all the time in the draft and the rise in foreign-born players makes it harder and harder to predict where someone might go. NBA teams like to draft foreign players and let them develop overseas for a few years to save money and a roster spot. Early might have been first-round worthy based on talent alone, but circumstances intervened.
Now we learn about Oklahoma City and Stanford’s Josh Huestis. Huestis, picked No. 29, won’t sign his guaranteed rookie contract and will play in the D-League, as part of a deal with the Thunder made before the draft.
As Grantland’s Zach Lowe writes:
The main benefit of being a first-round pick is avoidance of that uncertainty. First-round picks are guaranteed two years of full NBA paychecks, unless their team renounces their draft rights, which essentially never happens. Huestis could guarantee himself $1.5 million today by signing a contract the Thunder had to place in front of him earlier this month by league rule.
But Huestis isn’t signing that contract.
This seems to be something the NBA Players Association will be interested in. One of their members isn’t getting a guaranteed contract and that’s not a circumstance unions look favorably on.
Early, by several projections, appeared a fit with the Thunder. He worked out for the team. He offered a mature set of skills for a team that appears to need scoring off the bench and wants to win now. Instead, the Thunder, perhaps, passed him over for a player who isn’t close to NBA-ready and might fade away into D-League obscurity.
There is no point in Early worrying too much about this. His priority is making the Knicks and turning himself into a productive NBA player. If he proves that twice a year at the expense of the Thunder, he should be allowed to enjoy that moment and think about what OKC passed on.