Domantas Sabonis

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers, Bucks

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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). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Central:

Chicago Bulls

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 7

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: Chicago keeps their young building blocks, as well as the veterans they acquired to support them. In the end, the Bulls hope that this group can finally get healthy and make a playoff push. That means protecting all of them.

Chandler Hutchison was the toughest decision among the unprotected players. He’s still on his rookie scale contract, but he hasn’t been healthy during his first two seasons. That means the Bulls prioritize a veteran or two over him. Kris Dunn is another tough player to leave unprotected, but as a free agent, there is no guarantee he’d be back anyway.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Cavaliers are in a spot to really clean up their cap sheet if either Kevin Love or Larry Nance Jr. are selected. That made the protection decisions pretty easy. Keep all the young guys and the guys on decent contracts. Andre Drummond doesn’t really fit either description there, but Cleveland did just trade for him.

Detroit Pistons

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 1

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: This one has some gamesmanship involved. Because the Pistons have five free agents, they only need to leave the minimum of one player unprotected. It’s that one player that makes the eight protected players easy decisions. Sure, there are young guys in that group Detroit wants to keep. But a handful are players the Pistons wouldn’t lose sleep over seeing get drafted.

On the flip side, by leaving only Blake Griffin unprotected, Detroit opens the possibility of getting that albatross salary off their books. The Pistons don’t have any extra first-round picks, but could be open to moving one of their own to entice and expansion team to take on the remaining $77.8 million in salary over the next two seasons.

Indiana Pacers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Pacers protection decisions were fairly easy. Every player they are protecting is a key rotation player or a recent draftee.

It was a little difficult to leave Jeremy Lamb and T.J. McConnell unprotected, but Lamb is coming off a major injury. An expansion team may not want to deal with that. While McConnell has been good for Indiana, he’s a little expendable with Aaron Holiday on the roster.

Milwaukee Bucks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Bucks deep roster works against them a little bit here. Seven of the protected players were fairly easy decisions. The only one that was tricky was Wesley Matthews. He’s a veteran with a player option, but Milwaukee isn’t taking chances with one of their starters.

On the unprotected front, it came down to Matthews vs D.J. Wilson and Sterling Brown. Ultimately, neither young player has cracked the rotation on a regular basis. That makes it a little more palatable to leave them exposed in the expansion draft.

Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis has 20 and 11, leads Pacers past Blazers

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INDIANAPOLIS — Domantas Sabonis had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 106-100 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Malcolm Brogdon had 17 points, eight assists, and six rebounds while T.J. Warren and Victor Oladipo scored 15 points each for the Pacers, who have four of their last five.

CJ McCollum had 28 points and eight assists, Gary Trent Jr. had 20 points, and five rebounds, and Hassan Whiteside had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who have lost five of six.

The Pacers were able to hold off the Blazers’ late push.

After Brogdon made a jumper to give Indiana a 103-93 lead with 1:54 remaining, Portland went on a 7-0 run. McCollum’s floater made it 103-100 with 30 seconds to go.

Myles Turner drilled a 3-pointer with 9 seconds remaining to seal it.

The Trail Blazers went on a 10-1 run late in the first half to push ahead.

McCollum made a 3-pointer to give Portland a 42-40 lead with 3:13 to go in the second quarter. After a free throw by Oladipo, McCollum made another three and then a fadeaway to put the Trail Blazers in front 47-41.

Portland led 49-43 at halftime.

Brandon Ingram blooming ahead of restricted free agency

Brandon Ingram
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Was Brandon Ingram even open to signing a contract extension worth less than the max last offseason?

“Absolutely not,” Ingram said.

And that’s about as far as negotiations went with the Pelicans.

It was a daring stance from Ingram. He missed the end of last season with a blood-clot issue, drawing comparisons to Chris Bosh’s career-ending situation. Ingram had an up-and-down first three seasons with the Lakers. And he was joining a new team in New Orleans, where No. 1 pick Zion Williamson was the main draw. Considering Ingram’s uneven fit with LeBron James, questions swirled about how Ingram would complement Williamson.

“I have expectations for myself that are a little bit higher than everybody else’s,” Ingram said.

Good thing he didn’t settle.

Having an unprecedentedly strong season for someone entering restricted free agency, Ingram will almost certainly get a max contract this summer – maybe even a super-max.

Modern restricted free agency began with the 1999 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which set a standard timeline for first-round picks:

  • Sign four-year rookie-scale contract
  • Play first three seasons
  • Negotiate contract extension
  • If no extension is signed, enter restricted free agency after fourth season

For second-round picks and undrafted players whose contracts end, they can be made restricted – meaning their prior team has the right to match any offer sheet – after each of their first three seasons.

Most successful first-round picks get an extension after their third season. Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray and Pascal Siakam signed max rookie-scale extensions last offseason.

Now, Ingram is proving he belongs on that level.

Ingram’s 24.9 points per game this season are the most – by far – by someone entering modern restricted free agency:

Brandon Ingram

That alone would probably fetch Ingram a max contract – which projects to be worth $167 million over five years from New Orleans or $124 million over four years on an offer sheet elsewhere. Points draw attention on the market.

Ingram isn’t just a volume scorer, though. He has made major strides in his all-around game, becoming a Most Improved Player candidate and an All-Star.

The only players to make an All-Star team entering modern restricted free agency:

Ingram could do even better by making an All-NBA team, which would make him the first super-max-eligible restricted free agent. (Drummond also made an All-NBA team in 2016, but that was when different super-max criteria existed.) A super-max contract projects to be worth $200 million over five years.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard look like All-NBA locks. That leaves two openings.

Jimmy Butler, Pascal Siakam, Khris Middleton and Jayson Tatum are also All-Star forwards. Fellow All-Stars Bam Adebayo and Domantas Sabonis are bigs who play some forward. Paul George will be in the mix if he’s healthier the rest of the season. Jaylen Brown could also get consideration at either forward or guard.

So, the odds are against Ingram in a crowded field. But even putting himself in the race is such an achievement.

This breakout year comes just as outside expectations were beginning to fade.

Ingram was a highly rated recruit who drew Kevin Durant comparisons. Ingram starred at Duke, one of college basketball’s most prestigious programs. One of the NBA’s most prestigious franchises, the Lakers drafted him No. 2. The hype grew and grew.

But the production didn’t quite match.

Ingram’s lankiness resembled Durant’s. The shooting ability wasn’t close. Ingram showed flashes on the ball, a role he could rarely fill with LeBron in Los Angeles. Then, Anthony Davis requested a trade, and the Pelicans hired David Griffin, who – working as a TV analyst – had effusively praised Ingram.

“I knew I was going to be in the center of everything,” Ingram said.

The Lakers sent Ingram to New Orleans in the Davis deal. Suddenly, Ingram was on a new team just as his extension window was opening.

But his blood-clot issue loomed over talks.

“I understood everything that went on with the contract and everything, because they wanted to know if I was going to be extremely healthy, if something was going to come back,” Ingram said. “Once I figured out the reason why they didn’t want to do the extension, we didn’t go any further with it. I knew it was not going to be the number we wanted.”

It can be unnerving to play without long-term security. But Griffin’s prior comments reassured Ingram. A report of the Pelicans’ sustained commitment to re-signing the forward has only added more belief.

Ingram has spent most of the season looking like a franchise player.

“My success is bigger than this year,” Ingram said before All-Stars were named. “I look forward in trying to be an All-Star, trying to be a superstar, trying to be a leader of the team, trying to be the best teammate, trying to be everything I can to be the best basketball player that I can be.”

Of course, New Orleans had another franchise player – Williamson – waiting in the wings. Now, the Pelicans have two players who’d each be the envy of many teams around the league.

If William and Ingram can flourish together.

It’s too early to make any sweeping conclusions. The teams to pair an All-Star with a No. 1 pick rookie in the last 20 years:

  • 2020 Pelicans: Brandon Ingram & Zion Williamson
  • 2018 76ers: Joel Embiid & Markelle Fultz
  • 2014 Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving & Anthony Bennett
  • 2008 Trail Blazers: Brandon Roy & Greg Oden
  • 2007 Raptors: Chris Bosh & Andrea Bargnani
  • 2005 Magic: Grant Hill & Dwight Howard
  • 2003 Rockets: Steve Francis & Yao Ming
  • 2002 Wizards: Michael Jordan & Kwame Brown
  • 2001 Nets: Stephon Marbury & Kenyon Martin

None of those duos won even a single playoff series together.

But Williamson is so tantalizing, and Ingram is just 22. Their shared future appears bright.

Williamson has been particularly dangerous at center, where he gets more spacing around him. Ingram hasn’t played much in those lineups. But he looks like a ready fit – which wasn’t the case entering the season.

Ingram is shooting 40% on 3-pointers, up from 33% in prior years. That outside shooting might be unsustainable. This still isn’t a large sample. But Ingram is also shooting 86% on free throws, up from 66% in prior years. That suggests a genuine improvement in his shooting stroke. There’s room for Ingram to regress from beyond the arc and still spread the floor.

Another factor working in Ingram’s favor: His confidence. He says that never waned, even when he didn’t get his desired extension.

“You go out and play the game the right way and you just go out just and playing and just playing with your teammates and having fun, winning basketball games and putting up the numbers or whatever,” Ingram said, “everything takes care of itself.”

Three Things to Know: Andre Iguodala celebrated in return to Bay Area, helps Miami win

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Andre Iguodala shown the love in return to Bay Area, helps Miami get the win. Golden State wasn’t sure if it would get the chance to celebrate Andre Iguodala this season. The Warriors traded him to Memphis in a salary dump last summer, Iguodala and the Grizzlies agreed to have him sit out until he could be traded (note to Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks, everyone was in on this, it wasn’t personal), and once he did get traded would that team still come to the new Chase Center?

At the February deadline, Iguodala was traded to Miami. Monday night the Heat visited the Warriors, and the former Finals MVP’s role in bringing titles to Golden State was celebrated. There was a tribute video.

And Iguodala spoke to the crowd.

Miami traded for Iguodala for all the reasons Golden State was celebrating him — they want his grit, determination, and leadership in the playoffs. Miami wants to make a real run at the Bucks in the East and Iguodala would be a big part of that.

He didn’t need to be a big part of Miami cruising to a win against the shorthanded Warriors, Iguodala played 16 minutes, had a bucket and grabbed five boards. Jimmy Butler had 21, as did Jae Crowder off the bench (don’t sleep on that deadline addition in Miami). The Heat picked up the win 113-101.

Iguodala, however, will forever be remembered in Warriors lore.

2) Spencer Dinwiddie drains game-winner to lift Nets over Pacers. This is a punch-to-the-gut loss for Indiana, and they helped bring it upon themselves.

Indiana was up four points inside a minute, but a Brooklyn offensive rebound set up the chance for Joe Harris to cut the lead to two with a driving layup. Then came the killer sequence: A terrible shot choice from Victor Oladipo — a pull-up three with 13 seconds left on the shot clock — then a pick-and-pop three by Harris where the Pacers’ rotation was a step slow, and the Nets were up one. All-Star Domantas Sabonis isolated on what’s left of DeAndre Jordan, drove around him, got the layup and put the Pacers back up by one with 9.9 seconds left.

Then Spencer Dinwiddie did this.

Ballgame.

The Pacers have now lost six in a row. Getting Oladipo back has not been the answer. Meanwhile, the Nets keep on winning without Kyrie Irving in the lineup.

3) Highlight of the Night: Bojan Bogdanovic wraps the ball around Kristaps Porzingis’ leg. This is fantastic, Bogdanovic brought a little European playground to the yard, and it led to a Rudy Gobert dunk.

That. Was. Awesome.

Also, the Jazz beat the Luka-less Mavericks 123-119, behind 25 from Jordan Clarkson. That trade was a great fit for Utah.

Watch Spencer Dinwiddie’s game-winner for Nets; Pacers drop sixth straight

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INDIANAPOLIS — Spencer Dinwiddie, in isolation on Malcolm Brogdon, made a 21-foot jumper with 5 seconds left Monday night to give the Brooklyn Nets a 106-105 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

Dinwiddie finished with 21 points.

The lead changed hands three times in the final 27 seconds and wasn’t decided until Malcolm Brogdon’s 3-pointer at the buzzer came up short. Brooklyn has won two straight at Indianapolis for the first time since 2012-13.

Domantas Sabonis had 23 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists for his fourth triple-double this season. T.J. Warren added 19 points but couldn’t prevent the Pacers from extending their losing streak to a season-high six games.

The Pacers, who won the first two games in this season’s series, took a 78-76 lead after Doug McDermott‘s four-point play in the final minute of the third quarter.

Indiana kept the lead until Joe Harris made a 3-point to give Brooklyn a 104-103 advantage with 27 seconds left.

The Pacers answered with a layup from Sabonis before Dinwiddie gave Brooklyn the lead with his jumper on the Nets’ final possession.

The Pacers finally had their projected starting lineup intact: Brogdon, Oladipo, Warren, Sabonis and Turner.

It didn’t make a difference Monday but coach Nate McMillan hopes that changes soon.

“It’s only taken, what, 53 games to get to this point?” McMillan said. “But we have a chance now to establish this group and build off that.”