Derrick White

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs

Leave a comment

The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an 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.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division, Northwest Division and Southeast Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southwest:

Dallas Mavericks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.

Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.

Houston Rockets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: No decision points for the Rockets. Houston is protecting the entirety of their eight-man rotation.

Chris Clemons could make for an interesting expansion pick because his scoring ability at guard. Isaiah Hartenstein has shown some flashes in the G-League as well.

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.

Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.

The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.

San Antonio Spurs

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.

San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.

Portsmouth Invitation Tournament canceled

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Due the outbreak of COVID-19, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) has been canceled for the first time since it was founded in 1953.

The PIT is restricted to graduating seniors from college basketball schools only.

The four-day tournament usually begins the first or second Wednesday following the NCAA National Championship Game. The 12-game event is attended by NBA and overseas scouts, and annually sees most participants go on to play professional basketball.

The PIT is seen as the last chance for college seniors to boost their stock before the NBA Draft. Derrick White of the San Antonio Spurs is the last first round pick to have played in Portsmouth. White participated after finishing his college career at the University of Colorado in 2017.

Spurs earn Tim Duncan first win as acting head coach

Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tim Duncan won more than 1,000 games as an NBA player.

He got his first victory as an acting head coach on Tuesday night.

Dejounte Murray scored 21 points and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Charlotte Hornets 104-103 without longtime head coach Gregg Popovich, who missed the game while dealing with “personal business,” according to the team.

Popovich is expected to return to the bench for Friday night’s game at Brooklyn.

“It’s night and day to be in the big boy chair,” said Duncan, who normally serves as an assistant coach. “Truth be told though, I wasn’t in the big boy chair. I had (other assistant coaches) making the calls and I was the one standing there screaming at people.”

When asked if being a head coach is something he wants to pursue down the road, Duncan said, “Nope, Pop is going to be back and I will be happy to hand it right over to him.”

Duncan said when his team had a five-point lead late in the game, he thought the Spurs might cruise to the win.

“But they had to make it interesting. I think they did that out of spite,” Duncan joked.

Hornets coach James Borrego, who worked as an assistant coach for the Spurs when Duncan was there as a player, said it was “odd” to look down at the other bench and see the five-time NBA champion and 15-time All-Star coaching a team.

“I’m used to see that No. 21 on his jersey and see him out there leading the group. Tonight he had a blazer on,” Borrego joked.

Borrego said he has immense respect for Duncan.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here (as a head coach) if it wasn’t for that guy,” Borrego said.

Terry Rozier had 20 points and P.J. Washington added 19 with five 3-pointers to lead the Hornets.

Duncan was mostly mild-mannered on the bench, not showing much emotion as the game progressed. However, he did challenge a charge call on Derrick White with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter, but the play was not overturned.

The Hornets jumped to a 12-2 lead to open the game, prompting Duncan to use his first timeout. Charlotte extended its lead to as many 17 in the first half, but the Spurs battled back to take a 77-76 lead entering the fourth quarter.

San Antonio extended the lead to six with 4:24 left in the game after three free throws by Forbes, just moments after he appeared to get away with a travel in the lane that drew boos from the home crowd.

The Hornets came back and Rozier cut the Spurs’ lead to one with a driving layup with 42 seconds left. After DeMar DeRozan missed a pull-up jumper, the Hornets had a chance to win the game on their final possession. However, after Rozier drove to the basket, his pass under the basket went in and out of the hands of Cody Martin, allowing the Spurs to escape with just their fourth win in the last 11 games.

Borrego didn’t call timeout before the final play, so as not to let the Spurs set up their defense.

Chris Paul on 2020 Olympics: My wife wants to go to Tokyo

Chris Paul
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chris Paul feels great starring for the Thunder.

So great, he might even take on extra workload.

Paul – who helped Team USA win gold medals in 2008 and 2012 but didn’t compete in 2016 – said he’s “very serious” about playing the 2020 Olympics. Paul:

I’m excited about the opportunity. My wife is sort of calling the shots on this one. She said she wants to go to Tokyo.

I’ve been blessed and fortunate to play in 2008. I had no kids then. In 2012, my wife couldn’t come, because, four days after the gold medal game, she had my daughter.

We often hear about players missing international tournaments due to personal reasons. But that can go both ways. Paul might compete due to personal reasons.

Paul faces steep and deep competition for making the team at point guard: Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, Mike Conley, Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White. Trae Young didn’t even make the list of finalists.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said players who’ve previously represented the U.S. will get favorable consideration. So, that’ll help Paul.

If he plays, Paul – who turns 35 in May – would be Team USA’s third-oldest Olympian:

Age for Team USA’s first game or, in 2020, first game of the tournament

USA Basketball names 44 finalists for 2020 Olympics

Team USA in 2012 Olympics
Mark Makela/Corbis via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Team USA just placed seventh in the FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament. Their biggest problem? Lack of star power.

Now, it’s time for the U.S. to renew hope for the 2020 Olympics.

USA Basketball released a star-studded list of 44 finalists for the roster in Tokyo:

None of these players are required to play if selected. The player pool for the World Cup once looked similarly promising. Then, player after player withdrew. The reasons for not playing – health, personal – usually emerge closer to the event. For now, it’s easier for players to express interest. They can always withdraw later.

Likewise, USA Basketball can always put someone on the final roster who isn’t a finalist now. This list isn’t binding. So, it’s not worth getting worked up about omissions.

That said, HOW THE HECK ARE Trae Young, Zion Williamson AND Ja Morant NOT INCLUDED? All three are good right now. Given their youth, they’ll likely look even better next summer. Young is already an All-Star!

Several other good players didn’t make this list, including C.J. McCollum, Fred VanVleet and Spencer Dinwiddie. But they’re a little older and therefore less likely to make a leap into consensus stardom.

And that’s what it might require to make this roster.

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and have already expressed strong interest in playing. Other players who’ve previously represented the U.S., including LeBron James, will also get favorable consideration.