First off, let’s get this out of the way. Josh Huestis is not Paul George. George is a two time All-Star, a two time member of the All-NBA third team, and a member of the 2014 NBA All-Defensive first team. Huestis, on the other hand, barely registered on the draft radar until he was surprisingly chosen at the end of the 1st round by the Oklahoma City Thunder. To say that these two would somehow intersect in the basketball stratosphere, would be surprising at best and insulting at worst. But in the wake of George’s catastrophic leg injury in Thursday’s Blue and White scrimmage, a case could be made that somehow intertwines their two stories.
As I previously wrote, Huestis and the Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to a one of a kind deal the NBA had never seen. The American born Huestis agreed to become the first domestic draft and stash player that was drafted in the first round. He would hold off on signing his guaranteed rookie contract, and instead, would develop for a season under the guise of the Thunder’s D-League team. Huestis’ earnings would go from a guaranteed high of $900,000 to about $30,000. After a bit of backlash from NBA media members, the truth finally revealed that it was a joint deal concocted by both the Thunder and Huestis and his agent.
After the George injury, Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban got back on his pedestal and started bellowing into his megaphone about the risk the teams were taking with their top players participating in international competition. In some respect, I do agree with Cuban. The NBA team takes all the risk when it comes to their player(s) participating in basketball related activities outside of the team’s scope. Players participating in USA basketball are the best of the best and their salaries usually reflect that. The Indiana Pacers signed George to a max contract (5 years/$92 million) last summer. This past season was the last year of George’s rookie contract, so his extension kicks in this upcoming season. Unfortunately for the Pacers, George will probably spend the first two years of his max extension working his way back into form. By the time he is fully healed, the championship contending Pacers team we’ve seen the the last two season may look entirely different.
While I do agree that NBA teams take the brunt of the risk, I don’t agree with his quest to stop NBA players from playing in international competitions. The USA basketball program under Jerry Colangelo and Coach K has been very organized and has had a near clean track record in regards to the health of the players. If I’m an owner, I would much rather have my guys practicing under the guise of an NBA-like practice, instead of playing with a bunch of no names on the blacktops in Manhattan or at the Drew League. In addition, while the competition between NBA players is fierce, there is probably a modicum of restraint in practice as all the players know the bigger goal in mind is making it to the gold medal game healthy and making it to training camp healthy.
The one variable that was different between the Paul George injury occurring in the Thomas and Mack Center and that injury occurring in an NBA arena was the amount of space between the court and the goal’s stanchion. The play itself, a fast break block attempt, is one that happens numerous times in a game. Paul George has probably made that play thousands of times in his life time. This time, all the variables went against him, and he ended up with a grusome injury. That could have happened in the Thomas and Mack Center, just like it could have happened at Pauley Pavillion, just like it could have happened at Rucker Park, just like it could have happened at the Staples Center. Players play. That’s what they do. And they’d rather do it with their peers, as opposed to doing with a coach and a bunch of stationary chairs positioned on the court. As Kevin Durant said, “Steel sharpens steel.” Players push each other to get better. That is a rite of passage every offseason. I’d just rather have it done with Coach K screaming at the players instead of Hannibal “The Most Electrifying”.
But back to Huestis. While the teams are taking all the risk when it comes to international basketball, Huestis is taking all the risk when it comes to his career. The Thunder own Huestis’ rights, but if Huestis were to suffer a Paul George or Shaun Livingston-like injury in the D-League, it will be very interesting to see if the Thunder will just cut their losses and renounce Huestis’ rights, thus making him an unrestricted free agent. That was the objection that a lot of NBA writers put up when they heard about this deal. And that was all before the Paul George injury pierced through each one of our optic nerves. Now that we’ve been reminded that freak accidents happen when human beings are jumping and sprawling all over the place, I’m almost hoping that Huestis makes it out of this next season completely healthy. I have no doubt the Thunder would honor the first two years of Huestis’ contract out of sheer loyalty. Say what you want about how the Thunder operate, but player loyalty is never something they are lacking in. I just hope it doesn’t have to become a decision.