Celtics forward Gordon Hayward
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Mock NBA expansion draft: Picking the Seattle SuperSonics and Flint Tropics

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What if the NBA added two new teams this year?

The league’s hiatus gave us an opportunity to explore the possibility.

NBC Sports conducted a mock NBA expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

Keith Smith set protected lists for existing teams and explained his rationales:

Now, the Seattle SuperSonics (run by Kurt Helin) and Flint Tropics (run by Dan Feldman) make their selections.

Key rules for the expansion draft:

  • A coin flip determines who picks first. The winner’s choice is: Nos. 5 and 36 picks in the 2020 NBA draft/second choice in expansion draft or Nos. 6 and 35 picks in 2020 NBA draft/first choice in expansion draft.
  • Expansion teams alternate picks.
  • Expansion must select one player from each incumbent team. Exception: If the only players available from an incumbent team earn at least $10 million, the expansion teams can bypass selection from that team. Expansion teams can’t select more than one player from each incumbent team.
  • Expansion teams operate at 80% of the league-wide salary their first season and 90% of the league-wide salary cap their second season. The usual salary floor applies.
  • Expansion teams draft without regard to the salary cap.
  • Expansion teams can waive any selected player before the start of the season, and his salary doesn’t apply toward the salary cap and luxury tax. Essentially, expansion teams get unlimited amnesty provisions with selected players before the start of the season.
  • Incumbent teams can offer draft compensation to entice expansion teams to select certain players.

You can listen to a podcast of the expansion draft, which includes haggling over those enticements and other on-the-fly strategy.

Here’s a tracker of all unprotected players:

Mock NBA expansion draft

Flint won the coin toss and opted for the higher first-round pick in the 2020 NBA draft. That put Seattle up first in the expansion draft.

Here are our selections and teams and analysis of each (listed salaries are for 2020-21):

I get Omari Spellman was an unlikely No. 1 pick, and it’s fair to question how much better the 22-year-old Spellman will get. But what I want on this team are bigs who can hit the three and play inside a little, and Spellman can do those things. I may be higher on him than most and see a future solid rotation guy, and if I can get that out of this draft, I will take it.

If all goes well, Gordon Hayward will be the face of the franchise. He’s still a good player who hasn’t necessarily left his prime despite health issues previously sidetracking him. Hayward should hold positive trade value on an expiring contract, even if his salary is high. That provides flexibility if the Tropics and/or Hayward want to pivot before the next trade deadline. Even if Hayward opts out this offseason, sign-and-trade possibilities exist. The worst-case scenario is Hayward immediately opting out and leaving Flint with no return. But even in that scenario, more than $34 million of salary relief is a silver lining.

This is a roll of the dice. Keita Bates-Diop has shown flashes of potential (while in Minnesota), he’s a good shooter on corner threes, and it’s worth the pick and a little bit of money to see if he can develop into a part of the Sonics’ future.

Isaac Bonga has the size, athleticism and raw talent to become a good NBA player. I’m not sold he’ll get there, but he’s trending in the right direction. The Tropics are happy to take a chance on the high-upside 20-year-old.

Another floor-spacing four, JaMychal Green fits into my “he can be a solid rotation player for us and we might be able to trade him to a playoff team/contender at the deadline” mold. He has a player option, so there is risk he just walks, but it’s a reasonable risk from my perspective.

I was high on Dennis Smith Jr. in the 2017 NBA draft. Frankly, he has nearly completely disappointed since – even while getting a change in environment. But Smith is still just 22, and point guards tend to develop later than other positions. So, he gets yet another opportunity to prove himself.

This is simply a bet that Kevon Looney can get and stay healthy. He has shown on the league’s biggest stage that he can play, that he is an athletic five who can play in the modern game, but he just has to stay healthy. The Sonics will be banking on their medical/training teams to keep him on the court.

Boban Marjanovic has produced at elite levels in limited minutes. No team has ever fully unleashed him. Maybe that’ll happen Flint. Maybe it’s too late for Marjanovic, now 31, to get that type of treatment. At minimum, he should bring joy to fans and teammates.

Seattle receives the Suns’ 2020 second-rounder (via Memphis) on condition of selecting Grayson Allen.

I liked Jontay Porter a lot in this draft, but there are legitimate health concerns for a player who has yet to step on an NBA court, so I took the Grizzlies’ offer of a high second-rounder, plus a guy in Grayson Allen who can shoot the rock and maybe he can become a rotation player. Mostly this was about the pick. But someday the Sonics may regret not grabbing Porter here.

Points guards came at a premium in free agency last summer. T.J. McConnell is a perfectly reasonable backup with a small salary. There will probably be a point guard-needy team happy to trade a pick for him. If not, he can fill a role on the Tropics.

A solid, trustworthy veteran point guard who has played on the league’s biggest stages, Patty Mills can get the ball to our multitude of forwards on the roster, be a veteran leader in the locker room, plus he is another guy I might be able to trade at the deadline.

Isaiah Hartenstein – a 7-foot center – has fit issues in the modern NBA. But he’s mobile enough to have a fighting chance. The 21-year-old scores well inside, and his size is useful on the glass and defending the paint.

Nicolo Melli has become a solid part of the New Orleans rotation as a 6’9” big who can shoot the three and space the floor. No team can have enough shooting, he fits that, and at this point in the draft that one skill was enough for me.

Flint receives a Pistons’ top-three-protected pick in 2020, 2021 or 2022 (becomes unprotected first-round pick in 2023 if not conveyed) on condition of selecting Blake Griffin.

Blake Griffin was an All-NBA third team forward just last season. Will the expensive and injury-prone 31-year-old return to stardom? Probably not. But there’s at least a chance. Far more importantly, that’s a PRIME draft asset incoming from Detroit. Griffin – with a $38,957,028 player option – has the Tropics’ only guaranteed salary for 2021-22. They can afford that.

Seattle receives a Cavaliers’ lottery-protected first-round pick in 2022 or 2023 (becomes two second-round picks if not conveyed) and a Bucks’ first-round pick top-10 protected in 2022, top-10 and 25-30 protected in 2023 and top-8 protected in 2024 (becomes two second-round picks if not conveyed) on condition of selecting Kevin Love.

Kevin Love can still play, he’s averaging 17.6 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, and he still throws a mean outlet pass. He gives me a player from the Pacific Northwest the Sonics can sell to fans. However, the real reason for taking him is two first round picks. This was about adding to the stockpile.

Sterling Brown fills a limited role in the Bucks’ guard rotation. His toughness is endearing and gives him opportunities to grow as a defender and shooter. The Tropics would like to keep him at a low price.

Much like JaMychal Green above, Mike Scott is a veteran big man who can space the floor, he can play a role for us, and I might be able to flip him at the deadline to a team that needs a shooting big man.

Shaquille Harrison has quietly become an advanced-starts darling. His combination of athleticism and effort results in positive plays all over the floor. If he continues to progress as an outside shooter, he’ll be a keeper. Unfortunately, Flint will have to pay to keep the free agent before evaluating him further.

Garrett Temple is a solid, versatile guard who is not a great shooter but on my roster can give me respectable rotation minutes.

The theory of Skal Labissiere is nice – a big who can shoot 3-pointers and protect the rim. There are still major questions about his ability to handle the physicality of the NBA, though. Yet another player the Topics would like to keep at a low price.

There was no chance I was going to let the one Long Beach State player on the board not come to my team. James Ennis is also a solid wing player who can give me minutes this season.

Rayjon Tucker shined on the Bucks’ minor-league affiliate then hasn’t done much in Utah. He’s still just 22 and athletic. Maybe he needs more time to adjust to the NBA, though Flint certainly isn’t banking on anything.

Justin James is a guy the Kings’ like and has shown flashes of potential (a lot of Kings fans wanted to see him get more run). At this point in the draft, the pickings are slim and James’ potential separates him.

Jevon Carter is a dogged defender with no size to spare (6-foot-1). His offense looks far better when his 3-pointers are falling. The Tropics like him enough to pick him without the benefit of him being under contract, though that obviously creates uncertainty into him ever making the roster.

Abdel Nader has shown flashes in Oklahoma City and, in Seattle, he will get the opportunity to prove he can take advantage of more run. A late-draft roll of the dice.

Dwayne Bacon showed intriguing flashes last season then backslid this season. Maybe he just needs a fresh start outside Charlotte.

Mario Hezonja is a guy who everybody loves on paper but has never really put it together. He can have the ball in his hands more in Seattle, maybe that sparks something. With a player option, he could walk. Which would be fine, too.

Unlike the players drafted before and after him, Malcolm Miller is due no money. That’s the appeal. He’s unlikely to stick in Flint.

I was forced at this point in the draft to take Quinn Cook or Rajon Rondo, and I will take Cook, who could play in my rotation in Seattle, and if not he has just $1 million guaranteed.

 

Depth chart

  • Point guard: Patty Mills, Quinn Cook
  • Shooting guard: Grayson Allen, Garrett Temple
  • Small forward: James Ennis, Keita Bates-Diop, Mario Hezonja, Abdel Nader, Justin James
  • Power forward: Kevin Love, JaMychal Green, Mike Scott, Nicolo Melli
  • Center: Kevon Looney, Omari Spellman

Draft picks

  • Own: Nos. 6 and 35 in 2020
  • Extra: Future Bucks’ first-rounder, Future Cavaliers’ first-rounder, Suns’ second-rounder

Overall, what I was aiming for was a team with some young talent that could be part of what is being built in Seattle — not a superstar, there isn’t one of those available in this draft, but solid players — add a few picks, and get some veterans who can make the team competitive in the short term and potentially be traded to get prospects and picks down the line. Then, go hire a developmental coach — hello Kenny Atkinson — and use this draft as a foundation to build something over the next few years.

What I thought by the end of this was I didn’t get as much young talent as I had hoped, it got away from me a little bit. But I got a few players worth the gamble because of my team’s focus on development, some additional draft picks (a couple of first-rounders, if things break right), and a number of players I can trade during the season to bring back more prospects or picks. It’s a foundation we can build on.

 

Depth chart

  • Point guard: Dennis Smith Jr., T.J. McConnell
  • Shooting guard: Rayjon Tucker
  • Small forward: Gordon Hayward, Isaac Bonga
  • Power forward: Blake Griffin
  • Center: Boban Marjanovic, Isaiah Hartenstein

Draft picks

  • Own: Nos. 5 and 36 in 2020
  • Extra: Pistons’ first-rounder

Free agents

  • Sterling Brown, Shaquille Harrison, Skal Labissiere, Jevon Carter, Dwayne Bacon, Malcolm Miller

Only the longshot chance of Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin remaining healthy and playing like stars will prevent the Tropics from being bad next season. The core of this team will be the No. 5 pick and Detroit’s first-rounder.

Hopefully, one of the young players selected in the expansion draft (Isaac Bonga, Dennis Smith Jr., Isaiah Hartenstein, Rayjon Tucker) hits. It’s tough to count on that. This will likely be a several-year buildup. The goal is striking the right balance between being entertaining and trading veterans for picks.

After selecting so many free agents in the expansion draft, Flint must still fill a third of its roster in free agency – on an extremely limited budget. The Tropics hope to retain as many of those free agents as possible (besides Malcolm Miller), though that’s easier said than done.

The big thing to watch this offseason: Griffin’s health. If he still looks significantly hampered, the Tropics could waive him during their de facto amnesty window prior to the season. Though they’d still have to pay him and liquidity can be an issue after posting the expansion fee, that’d free considerable salary-cap flexibility. Most likely, Flint keeps Griffin and hopes for the best.

Not one NBA equipment manager packed light for NBA restart

NBA equipment manager
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Rob Pimental spent a good amount of time thinking about everything the Miami Heat would need for what could be a three-month trip to Walt Disney World.

He is the Heat equipment manager. Every jersey, sock, sneaker, whatever the team needs, it’s his responsibility to have it ready. So, when it came time to figure out what was getting packed for Disney, Pimental came to a realization.

“Pretty much everything,” said Pimental, who confessed to having a few sleepless nights of worrying. “I’m the type of guy who wants everything on hand, so I literally packed up my entire equipment room and brought it with me.”

He’s not alone.

All 22 teams in the NBA restart had to pack more than ever, for a road trip like none other. Every team is assured of spending at least five weeks at Disney, and some could be there for three months. The challenges for players and coaches are obvious, but the challenge for equipment managers — among the unsung heroes of this restart plan — aren’t anywhere near as visible to those watching games from afar.

“This is what equipment managers were built for, honestly,” Orlando Magic equipment manager Jacob Diamond said. “We have some of the smartest guys around the league that do what I do and at the end of the day, for us, it’s really no job too big, no job too small. Our coaches are relying on us, our players, and this is history right here. So, it’s kind of cool to be a part of it — even though it’s extra work.”

For this trip, Diamond has a two-room suite in the hotel that the Magic are calling home.

It’s not a perk. He needed the space.

Luggage is lined up around all four walls, with more bags in the middle of the room, along with a clothes rack, a large trunk and a bunch of bright blue bags with the Magic logo stacked over by the sliding door that leads to the balcony. He knows the contents of each, where every item is, so if Nikola Vucevic needs a certain pair of socks or Aaron Gordon needs a certain type of compression gear, Diamond finds it in a flash.

“I made sure I overpacked for this rather than underpacked,” Diamond said. “It’s not so easy to have things sent here. I’d rather have things here, ready to go, so here we are.”

Toronto Raptors equipment manager Paul Elliott prides himself on typically taking only what he needs. He tends to take 45 bags on a standard road trip; by NBA standards, that is packing light.

Not this time. For this trip, Elliott’s count was 176 bags.

And while most teams only had to move their operation once — from their home facility to Disney — Elliott had to pack the Raptors up twice, first from Toronto to their pre-camp workouts at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, and then again to get the stuff up to Disney.

“I looked at it as what they were going to take for a two-week Western road trip, took what I would usually pack for that, and kind of quadrupled it,” Elliott said. “I just had to make sure I had enough options for these guys to accommodate them when they need. I just want to be prepared.”

More gear is on the way.

By the time games start, the 22 teams will have more than 4,000 jerseys between them. Every team brought three sets of uniforms — typically, two jerseys each for each player. Then the decision was made to give players at Disney the opportunity to wear jerseys with a message raising awareness about social injustice and racial inequality, and those huge shipments are expected to arrive in the next few days.

When Elliott started unloading the Raptors’ 176 bags, several staff members who aren’t usually tasked with helping with equipment ran to his aid. More bags will be going back to Toronto when the season ends; Elliott had his assistant send him empty ones to accommodate the new jerseys.

“We’ve got the greatest staff for that sort of thing,” Elliott said. “Nobody’s above anything. They just want to make sure it’s done properly.”

Washington coach Scott Brooks said the Wizards are using a similar everybody-must-help approach, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra insisted his team do the same.

“There’s an absolute understanding that this is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Spoelstra said. “And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything — not just for equipment managers, but everybody. … We’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Days will be long for equipment managers. Each team only sent one; it’s not unusual for two equipment personnel to travel, but that wasn’t possible on this trip because of the restrictions on the amount of people who can be in the NBA bubble.

Extra work will add up as well. After practices or games, equipment managers will have to load up the sweaty gear, take it back to the hotel, then call a shuttle to pick them up and take them to the laundry facility built for the restart — 66 washers and 66 dryers, all lined up inside what once was a batting cage at the Atlanta Braves’ former spring training complex.

There’s also a code among the equipment managers. While the 22 teams will be trying to beat each other, the equipment staffs are working together and helping one another where possible.

“We all understand each other’s daily battles,” Diamond said, “because we share the same ones.”

The real comforts of home are gone for the next several weeks. The trick, Pimental said, is making sure players don’t have to worry about getting what they need.

“It’s something we’ve never done before,” Pimental said. “But we’ll make it work.”

Joakim Noah says focus of Achilles recovery was to make Clippers roster

Joakim Noah Clippers
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Joakim Noahlike Kobe Bryant and so many athletes before them — didn’t want an injury to define how his career would end.

Noah said he injured his Achilles back in September and the focus of his rehab is the chance he has now with the Clippers.

“You know, in September, I had a freak accident and cut my Achilles, and you know, I told myself that that’s just not how I wanted to end my career,” Noah said on a conference call with reporters Saturday.

“So you know, the day after the surgery, I was in the gym working out with the hope of making this team. I knew that if I didn’t keep training and if I got a call from the Clippers and I wasn’t ready, I knew I would have regrets for the rest of my life. So I kept training, and to be in this position right now, I feel very fortunate to be in this position, being with God, great players, being in a position to win a championship, it’s not something that I take for granted.”

Joakim Noah added he was supposed to have a workout with the Clippers before the season, but the injury ended that.

“I was supposed to work out with them in September right before the season started. I was ready. I was really excited for the opportunity, and then, you know, just from up with one minute to the next, I cut my Achilles.

“So to be back in this position and to have the confidence from the organization… It’s just a class organization. I just feel like very, very blessed to be in this position right now.”

Noah provides depth and versatility behind an established Los Angeles frontcourt, something needed with the compacted schedule in the Orlando NBA restart. The Clippers start Ivica Zubac, a more traditional center, then bring potential Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Harrell brings his energy, 18.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a night, great pick-and-roll chemistry with Lou Williams, plus improved defense to the mix.

The Clippers are counting on the Noah from the second half of last season, where he was solid coming off the bench in Memphis playing quality defense plus scoring 7.1 points per game. Noah could even play himself into a Clipper contract for next season (depending on what happens with Harrell in free agency this offseason).

For now, Noah is just happy to be back on the court.

Philadelphia’s Ryan Broekhoff not in Orlando after wife tests positive

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Ryan Broekhoff, who never quite found a spot in the Dallas rotation, got a real opportunity when Philadelphia signed him as a substitute player for the restart in Orlando.

Except Broekhoff hasn’t gotten a chance to take advantage of the opportunity because there are things more important than basketball.

Broekhoff explained in a Tweet that his wife tested positive for the coronavirus and family has been his priority. As it should be.

Philly signed Broekhoff because the team needs shooting, and what he does is take and make threes — 51 of his 59 shot attempts in Dallas this season were from three (for his career 77.8% of his shot attempts are from deed) and he hit 40.3% of them.

Broekhoff was always going to struggle to find minutes with the Sixers. Philly is expected to start Shake Milton and Josh Richardson on the wing in Orlando, and coming off the bench behind them is Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Glenn Robinson III, and Alec Burks.

Kawhi Leonard arrives in Orlando, Nikola Jokic expected soon

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The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard has arrived in the NBA’s restart bubble in Orlando. The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is not far behind him.

They are two of the biggest name players who were delayed arriving in Orlando, but for them the delays were short.

“Kawhi, he is here, he is going through the protocol,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said Saturday, adding the two-time Finals MVP arrived Friday night and is in the midst of the two-day/two-test quarantine all players and staff went through. If things go smoothly, he should be practicing with the team by Monday. Leonard’s arrival was delayed for “personal reasons” (and Leonard doesn’t open up much about his personal life).

Jokic tested positive for the coronavirus back in his native Serbia, which delayed his arrival stateside (where there were more tests and quarantine time). Nuggets coach Mike Malone said Jokic should arrive soon.

That leaves the two Houston stars — James Harden and Russell Westbrook — as the biggest names not yet in Orlando. Both are expected to arrive in the coming days. The Rockets have resumed practice without him.