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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.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Hawks, Hornets, Heat, Magic, Wizards

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
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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, Central Division, Pacific Division and Northwest Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southeast:

Atlanta Hawks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Hawks protections are very straightforward. Every player they are protecting is either a rotation player, under team control for a while or both. No hard decisions here.

That means that Atlanta is leaving their restricted free agents and Brandon Goodwin unprotected. No major concerns over losing any of the four.

Charlotte Hornets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Charlotte’s decisions were fairly easy. Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are all core pieces. Despite his suspension, Malik Monk still has upside. And the three young forwards (Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels) are locked in on low salaries for a while.

Keeping the three minimum salary forwards meant leaving Dwayne Bacon unprotected. Bacon had been out of the rotation and sent to the G-League, so he’s out of the plans for now. As for Nic Batum or Cody Zeller, the Hornets would welcome getting either big salary off the books.

Miami Heat

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 1

Ineligible – 6

Analysis: Miami was really helped by having six players ineligible because they are unrestricted free agents this summer. That left just this decision point: Andre Iguodala vs KZ Okpala vs Kelly Olynyk.

Okpala is a minimum salary player, so that means he stays. Iguodala was just added and given an extension. He stays. That means Olynyk and his $13 million salary are left exposed.

Orlando Magic

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Orlando had seven fairly easy protections. Their five starters, sixth man, and their promising young big man in Mo Bamba.

That left Khem Birch vs Al-Farouq Aminu vs Wesley Iwundu. Aminu was left unprotected due to salary and coming off a knee injury. It’s unlikely he’ll be selected and the Magic will be happy to have him back. That means it came down to Birch vs Iwundu. It’s more likely Birch will be selected, given his low salary and skill as a big man, so Iwundu was left unprotected.

Washington Wizards

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

  • John Wall – $41,254,920
  • Isaac Bonga – $1,663,861 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Anzejs Pasecnicks – $1,517,981 ($250,000 Guaranteed)

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Wizards are taking a gamble. Most of the protections were pretty easy. Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant are key players. Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown, Mo Wagner and Jerome Robinson are all on their rookie scale deals.

Then things get interesting. Leaving John Wall unprotected may seem crazy, given he’s a former All-Star. But Wall is coming off two lost seasons due to injury and will be 30 years old at the start of next season. He’s also owed $133 million over the next three seasons. Ish Smith and Admiral Schofield stay and the Wizards throw caution to the wind. It’s unlikely Wall will be selected, but just the chance of clearing that salary off the books is a gamble worth taking for Washington.

Report: 76ers trading James Ennis to Magic

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Update: Shams Charania of The Athletic:

 

The 76ers are trading for Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks to upgrade their underwhelming bench.

James Ennis saw the writing on the wall.

Because he re-signed with Philadelphia on a 1+1 contract, Ennis could have blocked getting traded. Instead, he’s approving a deal to the Magic.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

With Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu injured, Ennis should play regularly in Orlando. The Magic are on track to make the playoffs. It’s worth being a little more competitive, especially when it requires just adding a minimum-salary player.

Ennis holds a $2,130,023 player option for next season. Considering their impending luxury-tax bill, the 76ers might appreciate getting off that possible salary.

Philadelphia must shed another player to complete its trade with the Warriors. So, there’s another trade or a waiver to be announced.

NBA Trade Deadline tracker: All the player movement, new teams, impact

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The NBA trade deadline has passed and it had a little bit of everything – big names on the move, important players being sent to contenders, and other teams shedding salaries.

We’re here to help you sort everything that happened in the last few days, from the biggest trades to the smallest ones.

What trades happened?

• D’Angelo Russell traded to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota gets: D'Angelo Russell
Golden State gets: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota’s 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected), a 2022 second-round pick

Analysis: Minnesota has desperately wanted Russell to pair with his good friend Karl-Anthony Towns, keeping the superstar Towns happy (he has expressed frustration lately, he hasn’t been on the court for a win since November). Golden State is betting its culture can push Wiggins to live up to his potential nightly (not just once every couple of weeks), giving them what Harrison Barnes once did.

• Andre Iguodala traded to Miami

Miami gets: Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill
Memphis gets: Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, James Johnson

Analysis: At one point this was discussed as a three-team trade with Oklahoma City sending Danilo Gallinari to Miami, but that fell apart. With Iguodala and Crowder, Miami becomes more of a threat in the East. Memphis likes Winslow’s fit.

• Andre Drummond sent to Cleveland

Detroit gets: Brandon Knight, John Henson, second-round pick
Cleveland gets: Andre Drummond

Analysis: Let’s be honest: The Pistons dumped Drummond. It’s a minuscule return for an All-Star center, but that also speaks to exactly where the market is on Drummond — teams looked at his game, looked at that $28.8 million next season, and said no thanks.

• A 12-player, four-team trade that sends Clint Capela to Atlanta

Houston gets: Robert Covington, Jordan Bell
Atlanta gets: Clint Capela, Nene
Minnesota gets: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Evan Turner, Jarred Vanderbilt, a first-round pick
Denver gets: Shabazz Napier, Gerald Green, Keita Bates-Diop, Noah Vonleh, a first-round pick

Analysis: This is a win for Atlanta, which gets a good pick-and-roll center to pair with Trae Young. Houston is going all-in on small ball, with P.J. Tucker now their starting center.

• Clippers beat out Lakers for Marcus Morris

Los Angeles gets: Marcus Morris, Isaiah Thomas
New York gets: Moe Harkless, 2020 first-round pick
Washington: Jerome Robinson

Analysis: Morris will bring both floor spacing and some interior toughness to the Clippers (plus a few technicals). Morris leads the Knicks scoring at 18.5 points per game. The Clippers will not keep Thomas.

• Dwayne Dedmon traded back to Atlanta

Atlanta gets: Dwayne Dedmon, a 2020 and 2021 second-round pick
Sacramento gets: Jabari Parker, Alex Len

Analysis: Dedmon returns to Atlanta to be the backup center for Clint Capela.

• Warriors trade Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks to the 76ers

Philadelphia gets: Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks
Golden State gets: Second-round picks in 2020 (Dallas), 2021 (Denver), and 2022 (Toronto)

Analysis: Philadelphia needs shooting and it just added some.

• Clippers trade Derrick Walton to Atlanta

Atlanta gets: Derrick Walton
L.A. Clippers get: A second-round pick, $1.3 million in cash

Analysis: This clears a roster spot for the Clippers to make another, more significant move.

• Denver flips Shabazz Napier to Washington for Jordan McRae

Washington gets: Shabazz Napier
Denver gets: Jordan McRae

Analysis: And interesting flip of reserve guards (both 28-years-old, both on expiring minimum contracts). Nappier has played well as he has grown out of LeBron’s shadow. I really like this deal for Denver, however, as McRae can just flat out go get buckets, and Denver could use more of that off the bench.

• Golden State trades Willie Cauley-Stein to Dallas

Dallas gets: Willie Cauley-Stein
Golden State gets: A second-round pick

Analysis: After Dwight Powell tore his Achilles Dallas needed depth at center.

• Cleveland trades Jordan Clarkson to Utah

Utah gets: Jordan Clarkson
Cleveland gets: Dante Exum, two second-round picks

Analysis: Utah needed more bench scoring and Jordan Clarkson provides that.

• Minnesota trades Jeff Teague to Atlanta

Atlanta gets: Jeff Teague, Treveon Graham
Minnesota gets: Allen Crabbe

Analysis: Atlanta needed a quality backup point guard for Trae Young, so they traded for one.

• Philadelphia trades James Ennis to Orlando

Orlando gets: James Ennis
Philadelphia gets: a second-round pick

Analysis: Long Beach State’s own James Ennis was going to be crowded out on the improved Philly bench so he waived his no-trade clause to be sent to Orlando, where he should provide desperately needed shooting.

• Rockets send Jordan Bell to Grizz

Houston gets: Bruno Caboclo, Second-round 2023 pick
Minnesota gets: Jordan Bell, Second-round 2023 pick

Analysis: Bell doesn’t fit as well in Memphis with the Grizzlies also acquiring Gorgui Dieng. But I’d generally rather have Bell than Caboclo.

• Blazers trade Skal Labissiere to Atlanta

Atlanta gets: Skal Labissiere, plus $2M
Portland gets: Luxury-tax savings

Analysis: The Hawks get a more-than-fully subsidized flier on Labissiere, who’s due $924,968 the rest of this season then will be a free agent this summer.

Kings sent Trevor Ariza to Portland for Kent Bazemore

Sacramento gets: Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, two second-round picks
Portland gets: Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan, Wenyen Gabriel

Analysis: Portland had the highest payroll in the league and was going to shell out a lot of luxury tax for a team that might not even make the playoffs. This trade cut their tax bill by more than half. Ariza also has played well for Portland.

Report: Warriors trading Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks to 76ers

Warriors Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks traded to 76ers
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The 76ers seem miserable.

Enter Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III to provide a jolt before the NBA trade deadline closes.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

None of those picks look great. The further out, the more variance, though.

Burks (16 points per game) and Robinson (13 points per game) have scoring averages that would have historically fetched far greater return. This says something about how much smarter the NBA has gotten. Burks and Robinson are posting inflated numbers because they were pressed into outsized roles on the ravaged Warriors.

Those two should help Philadelphia, though. The 76ers went cheap on their bench last summer, and it shows.

Burks (shooting guard, point guard and small forward) and Robinson (small forward and power forward) can play across the positional spectrum. So, several Philadelphia reserves – Furkan Korkmaz, James Ennis, Raul Neto and Mike Scott – could get at least partially supplanted. Burks’ and Robinson’s 3-point should will be particularly welcome.

Burks and Robinson could be rentals. They’re both on one-year minimum-salary contracts. So, Philadelphia would have to use another exception or open cap space to re-sign them for greater than 120% of a minimum salary. The 76ers are already looking at a huge payroll next season. If Burks and Robinson play well, they could be too expensive for Philadelphia to re-sign, though it’s possible one gets the mid-level exception. If Burks and Robinson play poorly, the 76ers will likely prefer to move on.

The Warriors get closer to dodging the luxury tax. With their massive revenue, they probably wouldn’t freak out over a small tax payment. But not paying the tax this season would take them out of the repeater tax next season, when the payroll could be large enough to make a HUGE difference between the repeater and non-repeater rate.

Golden State is down to just 11 players. Depending who else is moved, ducking the tax could force the Warriors to spend some of the remainder of the season with a shorthanded roster. They probably deem that acceptable. They aren’t winning significantly this season, anyway. In fact, a shorthanded roster would improve Golden State’s draft position.