Fred VanVleet

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Raptors

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

Boston Celtics

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 7

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: Boston’s decisions are fairly cut and dry. Jayson Tatum, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams are all on their rookie-scale contracts. Jaylen Brown will be starting a four-year contract extension. Kemba Walker was just signed to a max contract. Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are good values and key rotation players.

The toughest decision was on Gordon Hayward. Carrying a salary over $34 million, the Celtics are betting he’ll go undrafted and will return to the team. Everyone else was a fairly easy decision to leave unprotected.

Brooklyn Nets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Nets are keeping their big four in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. Jarrett Allen is still on his rookie-scale contract, so that’s an easy decision. With over $101 million on the books for just Durant, Irving, Dinwiddie and LeVert, Nicolas Claxton and Rodions Kurucs help bring some low-cost upside to the back-end of the roster.

DeAndre Jordan will likely go unselected, given his age and $30 million-plus owed through 2022-23. If Jordan is selected, Brooklyn can bank some potential luxury tax savings down the line. Taurean Prince was on the fence, but given his disappointing play this season, and lack of fit in a lineup featuring Durant, the Nets will take their chances he’ll be selected.

New York Knicks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 6

Ineligible – 1

  • Maurice Harkless

Analysis: The Knicks are clearing the decks for a run at free agency this summer. The expansion draft could only help along that way. New York is protecting their young players with upside, as well as Julius Randle, last year’s big free agent addition. The Knicks are also protecting Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier. Not out of fear of losing them, but in hopes that either of the expansion teams will select a bigger salary and take it off the New York cap sheet.

Dennis Smith Jr. was the only questionable player to leave unprotected, but $5.7 million is simply too much for a player out of the rotation. The other five players aren’t part of the future in New York, so that decision was easy.

Philadelphia 76ers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Philadelphia’s decisions make themselves. The highly paid players are key rotation players. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton are steals on minimum contracts. Matisse Thybulle is only entering year two of his rookie scale deal. Zhaire Smith was on the bubble, but he’s young enough, and under team control, that he’s worth protecting.

Al Horford is very unprotected. His signing simply hasn’t worked out for the Sixers. He’s a player Philadelphia is open to talking about a trade with either of the expansion teams. With an extra first-round pick, the 76ers hope to dangle it to entice a team to select Horford.

Toronto Raptors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Raptors don’t have to expose any of their core rotation players in the expansion draft. Up front, Pascal Siakam just inked his contract extension, and OG Anunoby is still on his rookie scale deal. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all free agents. In the backcourt, Toronto can protect Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, along with undrafted find Terence Davis. And Fred VanVleet is a free agent.

The leaves just a handful of players who don’t have a role for the Raptors. Toronto could even entertain offering a second-round pick to entice either expansion team to select Stanley Johnson and take his $3.8 million off the cap/tax.

Best in the East by far, Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Bucks past Raptors 108-97

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TORONTO — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 19 points and 19 rebounds, Khris Middleton scored 22 points and the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Toronto Raptors 108-97 on Tuesday night in a matchup between the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Eric Bledsoe scored 17 points and Brook Lopez had 15 as the NBA-leading Bucks won their fifth straight and 18th of 20. Milwaukee (50-8) was playing the second game of a back-to-back after winning in overtime at Washington Monday.

Antetokounmpo finished with eight assists, narrowly missing a triple-double.

Behind by 12 points late in the second quarter, the Bucks rallied to beat the Raptors in their first game in Toronto since losing Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals last May, completing a disappointing collapse after winning the first two games of that series at home.

The Bucks beat the Raptors 115-105 when the teams met in Milwaukee on Nov. 2. They’ll face each other again in consecutive games on April 1 and 3.

Pascal Siakam scored 22 points and Fred VanVleet had 14 as the defending NBA champion Raptors lost for the second time in 19 games. Toronto was beaten at home for the first time since Jan. 12 against San Antonio, ending a nine-game run.

It was a rough night for Raptors starters Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry. Ibaka made 2 of 15 shots and Lowry shot 2 for 12. Ibaka went 1 for 10 from 3-point range while Lowry was 1 for 7.

Lowry, Terence Davis and Chris Boucher all scored 10 points for the Raptors.

Toronto trailed 84-71 to begin the fourth, but Davis scored five points as the Raptors closed the gap with a 7-0 spurt over the first 90 seconds of the final quarter.

VanVleet’s four-point play with 2:23 left cut it to 101-94, and the Raptors forced a steal on Milwaukee’s next possession but VanVleet missed a 3. Antetokounmpo hit a 3 at the other end, restoring the double-digit advantage.

Six of Toronto’s 10 field goals in the first quarter were 3-pointers, including a pair from Siakam. The Raptors led 27-25 after one.

Toronto was up 51-39, its biggest lead of the game, after OG Anunoby dunked over Antetokounmpo with 2:58 to go in the second. Milwaukee closed the quarter with an 11-1 spurt, cutting the deficit to 52-50 at halftime.

After missing 10 of 11 attempts from 3-point range in the second, the Bucks hit three in a row from distance during their closing surge. All five of Antetokounmpo’s points in the quarter came during that stretch.

Middleton made just one of five shots in the first half but went 3 for 3 in the third and scored nine points as the Bucks outscored the Raptors 34-19 to take an 84-71 lead into the fourth.

Pascal Siakam scores 37, Raptors remain red hot with win vs. Suns

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TORONTO — Pascal Siakam had 37 points and 12 rebounds and the Toronto Raptors beat the Phoenix Suns 118-101 on Friday night for their 16th victory in 17 games.

Serge Ibaka scored 16 points, Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis each had 14, Kyle Lowry had 13 points and 10 assists and OG Anunoby aded 12 points for the defending NBA champion Raptors.

After Toronto’s franchise-record 15-game winning streak ended with a loss at Brooklyn in the final game before the All-Star break, the Raptors bounced back by starting the second half with their eighth consecutive home victory.

The Raptors have not lost back-to-back games since an overtime loss at Indiana on Dec. 23 and a home loss to Boston on Christmas Day. Toronto has gone 19-1 since.

Siakam connected on 12 of 19 attempts, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

That was just one fewer than the six 3-pointers the Suns managed on 34 attempts. Phoenix shot 17.6%t from long range, its lowest mark of the season. No Suns player made more than one shot from distance.

Devin Booker scored 21 points and Deandre Ayton had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the seventh time in nine games.

Ayton returned to the starting lineup after missing the final two games before the All-Star break because of a sore left ankle.

Phoenix trailed 93-78 through three quarters, but the Suns cut the gap to six points, 96-90 on a basket by Ayton with 8:08 left to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a pair from the line, and VanVleet and Siakam both scored to put the Raptors up 102-90 with 6:58 remaining.

Booker missed a 3 with 4:45 left that would have made it a four-point game. Anunoby scored on a dunk and, after another missed 3 by the Suns, Ibaka banked home a 3-pointer to restore Toronto’s 12-point cushion.

Brooklyn snaps Toronto’s 15-game winning streak

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NEW YORK — The Toronto Raptors had their franchise-record winning streak stopped at 15 games with a 101-91 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night.

The defending NBA champions were hoping to keep rolling right into the All-Star break but couldn’t find the form that helped them average 121.2 points and shoot 50% over the previous 15 games.

This time, the Raptors hit only 37.8%, with Kyle Lowry‘s triple-double coming on a night the All-Star point guard was just 4 for 13.

Caris LeVert scored 20 points for the Nets, who ended a six-game losing streak against the Raptors. That included a loss Saturday in Toronto, where LeVert scored a career-best 37 points.

Joe Harris added 19 points and Spencer Dinwiddie had 17 points and nine assists for the Nets, who head into the break 25-28 after having Kyrie Irving for just 20 games. He sat out again with a sprained right knee.

Serge Ibaka had 28 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors after returning from a one-game absence with flu-like symptoms. Fred VanVleet scored 22 points and Lowry had 12 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds.

The Nets extended a 10-point lead after three quarters to 80-65 in the opening 90 seconds of the fourth and spent the rest of the game turning back every Toronto attempt to get back in it. The Raptors’ best shot came when Ibaka made a 3-pointer and VanVleet converted a three-point play to cut it to 91-82 with 4:13 remaining, but LeVert made consecutive baskets to quickly push the lead back into double figures.

The Nets scored the first seven points of the second quarter to open a 30-19 lead. The Raptors had the deficit down to six in the final minute of the period, but Harris made three free throws and then a 3 to make it 52-40 at halftime.

Pascal Siakam scores 34, Raptors roll past Timberwolves for 15th straight win

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TORONTO — OG Anunoby scored a career-high 25 points and matched his career high with 12 rebounds, Kyle Lowry had 27 points and 11 assists, and the Toronto Raptors extended their franchise-record winning streak to 15 by beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 137-126 on Monday night.

Pascal Siakam scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had a season-high 21 and Fred VanVleet added 16 as the Raptors won their 16th straight home meeting with Minnesota.

Lowry returned after missing Saturday’s win over Brooklyn because of whiplash, but center Serge Ibaka sat because of flu-like symptoms. Hollis-Jefferson started for Ibaka.

D'Angelo Russell scored 22 points in his Minnesota debut and Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and 10 rebound,s but the Timberwolves couldn’t build on Saturday’s surprise victory over the Clippers that snapped a 13-game losing streak.

Russell sat out Saturday because of a right quad contusion.

Jarrett Culver, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez scored 15 apiece for the Timberwolves, who have lost five straight against Toronto.

Minnesota had a season-worst 23 turnovers, leading to 34 points for Toronto. The Raptors committed 20 turnovers, four shy of their season-worst total. The Timberwolves scored 26 points off Toronto miscues.

Minnesota trailed 106-94 through three quarters but former Raptor James Johnson made two 3-pointers as the Timberwolves opened the fourth with a 12-2 run, cutting it to 108-106 with 9:07 left.

That was as close as Minnesota would get. Chris Boucher and Siakam scored to push Toronto’s lead back to six points, and VanVleet and Patrick McCaw hit 3-pointers on either side of Towns’ free throw to make it 120-109 with 5:28 remaining.

Toronto connected on eight straight field goals to begin the game before Hollis-Jefferson missed a hook shot with 8:03 left in the opening quarter. Lowry scored 14 points in the first and Siakam shot 4 for 4 and scored 10 points as the Raptors led 40-36.

Minnesota took its first lead of the game on a layup by Hernangomez with 6:24 left in the second quarter. The Timberwolves led 75-74 at halftime.

Anunoby scored 16 points in the third on 6-of-7 shooting, but the basket of the quarter came in the final seconds when VanVleet threw a no-look, overhead pass to Hollis-Jefferson for a fast-break dunk. Toronto outscored Minnesota 32-19 in the third to take a 106-94 lead to the fourth.