James Johnson

Mock NBA expansion draft
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Mock NBA expansion draft: Nuggets, Timberwolves, Thunder, Trail Blazers, Jazz

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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, and Pacific Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Northwest:

Denver Nuggets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Denver had maybe the easiest protections decisions in the NBA. Two rotation players (Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee) are ineligible, so the Nuggets simply protect their other rotation players.

Keita Bates-Diop is the exact type of player an expansion team should snag. He’s shown some upside in limited minutes. Vlatko Cancar has the benefit of an additional year on his contract, and will be only 23 years old at the start of next season.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: The Wolves are keeping guys who might be a part of the future. Most were no-brainers. The decision point was Omari Spellman v.s Juancho Hernangomez. Keeping Hernangomez doesn’t mean Minnesota will definitely re-sign him, but he has more upside than Spellman.

After Spellman, the rest are take it or leave it. Also, the Timberwolves aren’t paying either expansion team to take James Johnson off their hands.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: If this was done before the season, there could have been an argument for the Thunder to expose both Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. Both have played far too well to chance that now. Steven Adams is overpaid, but not by enough to leave him unprotected. The rest of the players, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, are young players with upside.

Abdel Nader has been a part of the rotation at times for OKC, but he’s not getting protected over a younger player. Deonte Burton and Mike Muscala were easy decisions due to their minimal roles for the Thunder.

Portland Trail Blazers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Portland is keeping its key veterans and younger players. The decision point was Wenyen Gabriel vs. the three unprotected veterans. In the end, the Trail Blazers chose to protect Gabriel, who they’ll likely renounce in free agency.

As for the three veterans, they all had strong cases against protecting them. Trevor Ariza is overpaid at this point his career. Rodney Hood is coming off a torn Achilles’. And Mario Hezonja just isn’t worth protecting, even despite his minimum salary.

Utah Jazz

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Utah’s first seven players were easy decisions. They are all rotation players. The decision point was keeping a non-guaranteed player (ultimately chose 2019 second-round pick Miye Oni) over either Mike Conley or Ed Davis.

The Jazz are leaving Conley and Davis unprotected because neither acquisition has worked out as hoped for. If Utah can clear Conley’s salary, that would be helpful for a team that is starting to get very expensive. Davis makes less than Conley, but the fit just doesn’t work. And of the minimum players, none have found a rotation role.

Report: Timberwolves still over luxury-tax line after Allen Crabbe buyout

Former Timberwolves wing Allen Crabbe
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
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Update: Allen Crabbe didn’t surrender quite as much money as initially reported. Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights:

 

 

Four NBA teams are over the luxury-tax line.

The Trail Blazers, Heat and Thunder aren’t huge surprises. They’ve each paid the tax multiple times in the last decade and are still at least in the playoff hunt.

The Timberwolves are an outlier. They haven’t paid the tax since 2007, and they’re plunging toward one of the NBA’s very worst records.

It’s not too late for Minnesota to dodge the tax, though. The luxury tax is assessed the final day of the regular season. So, the Timberwolves – who were $1,136,270 over the luxury-tax line – can still trim salary through waivers and buyouts.

That started with buying out Allen Crabbe.

Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News:

James Johnson has a $242,000 incentive for body-fat percentage and weight. Presumably, stemming from his time with the Heat, he won’t earn that.

Subtract Johnson’s bonus and Crabbe’s salary reduction, and Minnesota would be just $144,270 over the tax line. So close. Yet, so far.

An Evan Turner buyout went nowhere. One is technically still possible, but he wouldn’t be eligible for the playoffs elsewhere. So, that seems unlikely.

The Timberwolves could waive someone like Jacob Evans, Omari Spellman, Jarred Vanderbilt, Jaylen Nowell or Naz Reid. If that player gets claimed, Minnesota would dodge the tax. The Heat (Rodney McGruder) and Bulls (Erik Murphy) have made similar moves in recent years.

At minimum, buying out Crabbe will save the Timberwolves some money – even if they don’t escape the tax entirely. Really, the biggest surprise is that he relinquished so much. A rest-of-season minimum contract would pay Crabbe $515,744. But he was floundering in Minnesota and clearly ready to leave.

Timberwolves win first road game in 52 days, top Heat (video)

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MIAMI — Jordan McLaughlin’s layup with just under nine seconds left put Minnesota ahead for good, D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 27 points and the Timberwolves added to Miami’s late-season stagger by beating the Heat 129-126 on Wednesday night.

Malik Beasley scored 21 points, Juancho Hernangomez tied a season-high with 17 and McLaughlin added 13 for Minnesota. The Timberwolves were down by 12 with 3:59 left, then closed on a 20-5 run to get just their second victory in 20 games.

Jimmy Butler’s two free throws with 13.8 seconds left put Miami up 126-125, but McLaughlin’s layup on the next Minnesota possession put the Timberwolves on top to stay. Butler’s layup with 3.2 seconds left got blocked by Russell, and the Wolves held on.

Minnesota snapped a nine-game road losing streak, getting its first road victory since beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 5.

Kendrick Nunn led Miami with 24 points. Bam Adebayo had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Butler — back after a two-game absence for personal reasons — had 18 for Miami. The Heat fell to 23-4 at home and have dropped seven of their last nine overall.

The Heat stayed a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia lost in Cleveland earlier Wednesday, a game where 76ers star Joel Embiid departed early because of a shoulder injury.

The Heat have had major trouble closing games of late — a 22-point lead late in the third quarter against Cleveland on Monday was frittered away in what probably was the worst loss of the season, until now anyway — and a long film session and meeting on Tuesday clearly didn’t solve the issue.

They were up 121-109 with 3:59 left, and 123-112 after a layup by Butler 24 seconds later.

And Minnesota — a team that came into the night with one win in a span of 48 days — still wasn’t finished off. The Timberwolves scored the next 11 points to tie the game, getting five of those points from Beasley and a tying free throw from McLaughlin with 46 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Minnesota’s 27 attempts from 3-point range in the first two quarters was a first-half franchise record. … The Wolves are 4-0 in road games against Southeast Division teams this season, and 6-19 in all other road contests.

Heat: Adebayo played through a sprained right ankle, pushing his consecutive-game streak to 144 — extending the fourth-longest such streak in team history. … Goran Dragic’s first basket was a 3-pointer, and that pushed him one point past Grant Long (5,473) for 10th on the Heat career scoring list. … Nunn got his third consecutive rookie of the month trophy in a brief halftime ceremony.

JOHNSON RETURNS

Wednesday marked James Johnson’s first game back in Miami since the trade that sent him to Minnesota earlier this month, a move that sent Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami from Memphis. “I think Minnesota is seeing what kind of versatility he can bring to the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

LOOKING AHEAD

A large contingent of fans from Slovenia were in attendance Wednesday — and more are coming Friday, when the Heat play host to the Dallas Mavericks. At last season’s Dallas-at-Miami game, more than 2,000 Slovenians were in attendance to watch their nation’s two best NBA players, Dragic and Dallas star Luka Doncic, go head-to-head.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At Orlando on Friday night.

Heat: Host Dallas on Friday night.

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.

Winners and losers at the NBA trade deadline

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So much for a quiet trade deadline.

For a couple of months in the run-up to the NBA trade deadline, sources around the league talked about all the reasons not to expect a lot of trades this year, from a lack of cap space to take on bad contracts to a lack of sellers. Then came Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, which became a black cloud over the league and blotted out talk of things as trivial as trades.

But when the doors opened on trade talks again, it felt like the whole league rushed in — the result was a wild, trade filled couple of days that changed both this season and the trajectory of a number of teams.

Here is who won and who lost.

Winner: Los Angeles Clippers

In a West where the margins between the top teams — especially the two that call Staples Center home — are so thin, the Clippers’ moves around the trade deadline made this team better. Maybe a lot better. If they were not the favorites to come out of the West before the deadline, I have them there now. At least on paper.

The big move: The Clippers traded for Marcus Morris.

Morris brings grit, some interior toughness, a few technicals, and some floor-spacing shooting to Los Angeles. Morris averaged 18.5 points per game for the Knicks, and shot 45.4 percent from three — and that was without players such as Kawhi Leonard or Paul George drawing defenders to get him wide-open looks. Also, Morris is a physical defender — exactly the kind of player teams want on their side in the playoffs. Doc Rivers now has even more options on how to attack teams with this versatile roster.

The Clippers still bring Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell off the bench behind that starting five.

Loser: Los Angeles Lakers

This is all relative. The Lakers may still win the West — they do have LeBron James, after all — but the trade deadline made their path more difficult.

The Clippers got a boost picking up Marcus Morris. Denver got a little better and added some scoring (and will get healthy at some point). Utah’s one move was more than a month earlier, but they added scoring off the bench in the form of Jordan Clarkson.

The Lakers are still the Lakers. They also should get better because they will thrive in the buyout market, and they are still the favorites to land Darren Collison if he returns.

But even with that, the opponents the Lakers need to beat got better in the last few days, and that is not ideal for the Lakers.

Winner: Atlanta Hawks

To maximize what Trae Young can do, the Hawks needed to find him the right pick-and-roll partner, a guy who sets a strong pick then dive hard to the rim, drawing defenders with him (or getting open for the alley-oop). Some defense and shot blocking would be nice, too.

Enter Clint Capela, picked up from the Rockets in a massive four-team, 12-player trade — and the Hawks got him without giving up a first-round pick, nor rising star John Collins.

Capela was half of a very effective pick-and-roll tandem with James Harden (they scored more than a point per possession, in the Damian Lillard/Jusuf Nurkic range). The Hawks looked at a lot of big men and settled on the one that likely fits best with Young. Whether Capela fits next to Collins is another story and something to watch over the next couple of years.

Winner: Miami Heat

The Miami Heat are in the mix with the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, vying to be the second-best team in the East. (Philadelphia would like to be in that conversation, too, but right now they are not.) At the trade deadline, the Heat got deeper — adding Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder — and while that’s not likely making them a threat to any team with a Greek Freak on the roster, it may be enough to make Miami the second-best team in the East. Toronto and Boston stood still, Miami got better and added playoff-proven veterans.

At the same time, Miami got out from under the oversized contracts of James Johnson and Dion Waiters. It’s a masterstroke. Miami maintained its financial flexibility for the summer of 2021, in case any famous players who grew up in Greece want to test the free-agent market.

Loser: 2020 free agents

The teams that had cap space this summer to chase max-level free agents were not exactly inspiring: Atlanta, Cleveland, Memphis, Charlotte, New York, and Phoenix.

Now Atlanta, Cleveland, and Memphis are off that list. Their deadline moves said they were not inspired by the free agent class and decided to spend that money now.

To be fair, Detroit now will have the cap space — Detroit valued that cap space more than they valued Andre Drummond, the Cavaliers valued Drummond more than the cap space. Still, for potential free agents such as Gordon Hayward, DeMar DeRozan, Drummond (although he likely opts into that $28.8 million next season), Joe Harris, Montrezl Harrell, and others, it’s some slim pickings out there.

Winner: Robert Covington

Robert Covington got traded from a team that had lost a dozen games in a row (now 13) in the NBA’s coldest city to warm-weather Houston on a team poised to be a playoff threat — that’s a win.

Covington had 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and was a team-high +16 in his first game with the Rockets, Thursday nights win against the Lakers. That’s what Covington does, he puts up solid stats, but the team just plays better defense and runs a little smoother when he is on the court. Use whatever coach’s cliche you want — “he does the little things that don’t show up in the box score” or “he just plays winning basketball” — but he makes teams better.

Loser: Moe Harkless

If Covington wins because of the change in his situation, then you have to feel for Harkless. He did nothing wrong, he played well for the Clippers — he started most of the time, played smart, and took on the toughest wing defensive assignments so that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George didn’t have to all game. But, his $11.5 million contract made him a perfect person to round out a trade deal.

Harkless got traded from a title contender in sunny Los Angeles to the New York Knicks. That’s going to be a shock to the system.

Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves

Gersson Rosas is reshaping this team and he made some bold moves to do just that at the trade deadline.

He traded for D'Angelo Russell, which will make Karl-Anthony Towns happy and gives the Timberwolves a solid point guard of the future. Amazingly, he got Andrew Wiggins off the books at the same time. He added solid bench depth by trading for Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez. He got good value for Covington. He managed the salary cap well.

That’s a good start. I have serious questions about how well a team with Russell and Towns is going to defend, how good they can ultimately be, but considering where Minnesota was this is still a big step forward.

Loser Traditional NBA centers

Andre Drummond — who scores more than 17 points a game and is the NBA’s best rebounder — had almost no trade market and was salary dumped to Cleveland. Houston sent Clint Capela out the door to start a 6’5″ center in P.J. Tucker. Cleveland could not get a good enough offer for Tristan Thompson to pull the trigger on a deal. Boston and other teams were not willing to put real assets on the table to trade for a traditional center, deciding instead to wait for the buyout market.

In case you had any doubt about how the game is moving away from traditional centers, there’s your evidence. The league is moving on. Teams will still need an old-school big on the roster (although Houston is trying to prove that wrong), but teams are not going to pay big for one unless he is high-level elite (Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic level).