Furkan Korkmaz

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.

Glenn Robinson III: 76ers never explained role to me

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Glenn Robinson III said he was open to taking a discount to re-sign with the Warriors this summer.

Then, they traded him and Alec Burks to the 76ers.

Robinson, via Spencer Davies of Basketball Insiders:

“Even when (Golden State) played Philly, I showed them what I could do,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “So to play those consistent minutes a night and perform well… that’s the most disappointing part about coming here is that — both of us (are) coming off career years where we’re looking at hopefully big numbers after the season. I know I’ve got a family to feed. So you think about all those things.

“All those things play a role, and then when you come here and your role’s not really explained or you don’t know what’s going on with the trade — it’s not like it was a trade where you come in and immediately have an impact. It’s a little different, so… this team is full of wings, full of guys who can play. So really, I don’t really understand it. But it’s a business, you’ve got to make it happen and go out and try to do your best every night.”

76ers coach Brett Brown, via NBC Sports Philadelphia:

And that is not true. With all of our players, you sit down and you go through this clearly. After All-Star break, every single one of them got a roadmap — this is your role, this is what we expect.”

“I get when you have a career year on a poor team and it’s a contract year, I understand it. I coached those years myself,” Brown said. “And so in the middle of all of it, he’s good people. He’s a good person and he’s trying to figure out what his next step is while coexisting in a team framework.

These types of issues come up all the time. A player going public often signals a more intense dispute, and that might be the case here. But it also sounds like Robinson might have just answered honestly when asked.

The 76ers have been particularly unsettled since acquiring Robinson. They benched Al Horford. Then, Ben Simmons got hurt. Then, Joel Embiid got hurt. Robinson feeling stable just isn’t a priority. Backups have to deal with the chaos.

Philadelphia uses several players at forward besides Robinson – Tobias Harris, Al Horford, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott and Burks. The 76ers’ rotation famously mixes and matches several combinations. That makes the adjustment even rougher.

But I wonder how much this about an undefined role vs. a smaller role. After averaging 13 points and 32 minutes per game with the Warriors, Robinson is down to six points and 15 minutes per game with the 76ers.

Robinson also hasn’t played well with Philadelphia, missing all nine of his 3-pointers and not defending as well as hoped. I bet that contributes to his frustration.

The 76ers won’t use Robinson like the Golden State did. Philadelphia has too many talented players to give Robinson that large of a role. He must comes to terms with that.

But the 76ers can also do more to make him feel comfortable. Whether or not Robinson is being reasonable, managing ego is part of a coach’s job.

Embiid scores career-high 49, 76ers beat Hawks 129-112

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PHILADELPHIAJoel Embiid scored a career-high 49 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Tobias Harris had 25 points and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Atlanta Hawks 129-112 on Monday night.

Missing All-Star Ben Simmons for the second time in three games because of a back injury, the Sixers mixed up their starting lineup and got 15 points from Furkan Korkmaz in a reserve role.

Trae Young led Atlanta with 28 points despite missing nine of 11 from 3-point range. De'Andre Hunter added 22 and John Collins had 21 for the Hawks.

After trailing by 21 in the first half, the Hawks outscored Philadelphia 23-9 to start the third quarter. They closed out the period with an 8-0 run and took a 92-91 lead into the fourth after Young nailed a 3.

The Sixers went up to stay on four consecutive free throws by Embiid. Harris sank a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 105-98.

Embiid’s dunk and 19-footer put Philadelphia up by 15 with 3:08 left, and the All-Star center heard “MVP!” chants when he went to the foul line in the final minutes. Embiid made 14 of 15 free throws and 17 of 24 from the floor. He hit a 3 in the final minute to set his personal best. His previous high was 46 against the Lakers on Nov. 15, 2017.

Simmons only played five minutes in a loss at Milwaukee on Saturday before exiting. He had tests on Sunday and needs further evaluation.

Coach Brett Brown wouldn’t speculate on the extent of the injury or how long Simmons will be sidelined. But it appears the team is preparing to play without him for a while.

Bucks pull away in second half behind 31 from Giannis Antetokounmpo, rout Sixers

AP Photo/Morry Gash
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MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks turned a tight game with the Philadelphia 76ers into a mismatch immediately in the second half, led by the reigning league MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Khris Middleton scored 25 points and the Bucks beat the 76ers 119-98 on Saturday night in a matchup of Eastern Conference rivals.

Antetokounmpo scored Milwaukee’s first 11 points in the third quarter as the Bucks took advantage of the absence of Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid, who went to the bench less a minute into the period after picking up his fourth foul, and quickly put the game out of reach.

“We came out the third quarter and played fast,” Antetokounmpo said. “We were able to rebound the ball and just attack them. Joel had four fouls. That worked in our favor. We tried to be aggressive in the third quarter and set the tone.”

Antetokounmpo added eight assists as Milwaukee won for the 16th time in its last 18 games to improve its NBA-best record to 48-8.

The Bucks led 56-50 at the half before Antetokounmpo’s scoring outburst put the Bucks in control. Milwaukee would go on to outscore the 76ers 37-23 in the period.

Embiid, coming off a 39-point performance on Thursday night, had 17 points and 11 rebounds but shot just 5 for 18. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton also scored 17 points apiece for the 76ers, who fell to 9-20 on the road.

“I liked what I was seeing in the first half, and the death knock was Joel sitting,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We just didn’t respond well to Milwaukee playing their tails off, and they shot the heck out of the ball.”

Philadelphia lost All-Star point guard Ben Simmons early in the first quarter. Simmons, who missed the 76ers’ previous game with lower back tightness, headed to the locker room after making consecutive driving layups, the second with a little more than 7 minutes left in the opening quarter. He didn’t return after the injured flared up.

“We never got in a rhythm. Losing Ben, then foul trouble, not making shots and some calls that could have gone a different way,” Embiid said. “But it’s on us.”

The 76ers shot just 35%, while the Bucks connected on 53% of their shots.

The Bucks got off to a scorching start, taking a 12-2 lead sparked by seven points from Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee led by as many as 11 in the quarter and held a 31-21 lead at the end.

Philadelphia pulled within 37-36 in the second before the Bucks used a 10-2 spurt to push the lead back to double digits.

Joel Embiid calls ‘BS’ on idea he, Ben Simmons can’t play together

Oscar Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
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CHICAGO — Philadelphia has not lived up to expectations this season. Their 34-21 record would have them starting the playoffs on the road, and this team some picked to come out of the East this season (*raises hand*) has not looked like a threat to Milwaukee.

Which has added fuel to the idea that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons — the two All-Stars the 76ers have banked their franchise success on — simply don’t fit well together.

Embiid will have none of that.

“I think it’s BS,” Embiid said of the idea while at All-Star media day on Saturday. “Because when you look at the last two years we have been playing together, it was not a problem. This year it’s only a problem because at times our offense has struggled and I think it’s definitely going to be better after the All-Star break.

“I mean, just look at the last two years what we have been able to do and I think it can work and it’s going to work.”

Ben Simmons is on the same page.

“It takes time, not everything is supposed to be perfect…” Simmons said a few feet away from Embiid. “I mean I love playing with Joel, he’s an amazing talent, I have a lot of respect for his game and I know he feels the same way about me, so as long as we strive and continue to go the right way we’ll be fine…

“There’s a lot of things [the 76ers] haven’t tried, we’ve got a lot of talent, it’s kind of scary how good we can be. ”

This year, the Sixers have just a +1.3 net rating when Simmons and Embiid share the court. That is way down from the +7.9 net rating the pair had a season ago, or +15.5 two seasons ago.

What’s changed? The players around Simmons and Embiid. Gone are J.J. Redick and Jimmy Butler from last season, two players whose shooting and shot creation opened up space for Embiid to operate in the paint and Simmons to slash his way into that same space. Now, the threat of Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson is not having the same impact (it’s why Furkan Korkmaz has been so crucial for the 76ers, he has been a legitimate threat from deep) and the offense feels clogged.

This has sparked speculation about the Sixers trading Embiid or Simmons. Don’t bet on it. The first move in Philly (as it is with virtually every team where the pieces don’t fit) is to fire the coach and see if a new system solves the problem. That is the likely path if the 76ers continue to fall short of expectations once the playoffs start.

Embiid isn’t worried about any of it.