Jeff Green

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs

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

Dallas Mavericks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.

Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.

Houston Rockets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: No decision points for the Rockets. Houston is protecting the entirety of their eight-man rotation.

Chris Clemons could make for an interesting expansion pick because his scoring ability at guard. Isaiah Hartenstein has shown some flashes in the G-League as well.

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.

Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.

The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.

San Antonio Spurs

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.

San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.

Sixers reportedly interested in trade for Pistons’ Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway

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Philadelphia is aggressive heading into the trade deadline, looking anywhere and everywhere for shooting and playmakers to spark their middle-of-the-pack offense. The Sixers have been linked to numerous players: Robert Covington, Malik Beasley, Davis Bertans, E’Twaun Moore, and Andre Iguodala.

Now add Detroit’s Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway, and free agent Jeff Green to the mix. From by Keith Pompey of the Philadephia Inquirer:

Add those names to the list of wing players the Sixers have expressed interest in acquiring in a trade and/or free agent signees, according to multiple league sources. One source confirmed that Green worked for the Sixers in Miami while the team was there to face the Heat a couple of weeks ago…

League sources believe any Sixers’ trade deal will almost certainly include the team parting ways with second-year guard Zhaire Smith.

It’s going to take more than Smith, an athletic two guard with some promise but who has been pedestrian for Delaware in the G-League this season — to get a deal done. He is a throw-in with a package for one of those players.

Kennard and Galloway would bring the kind of shooting the Sixers need.

Galloway is a very good catch-and-shoot guy from three – 5.1 a game this season, shooting 40.7 percent on them. Kennard is shooting 39.9 percent from three on 6.5 attempts a game this season. Both fit with the Sixers’ inside-out style of play and both would come off the bench and, along with Furkan Korkmaz, give Philly some floor spacing. Kennard would cost more to get in a trade.

Green is a fallback option. Utah released Green — to get more run for Georges Niang — but he averaged 7.8 points a game while shooting 32.7% on threes for them.

Detroit, with Blake Griffin likely out for the season, is open for business at the trade deadline. Andre Drummond is available and has multiple teams interested in acquiring his skills. Other players, including Derrick Rose, could draw interest.

Philadelphia has the 15th-ranked offense in the NBA. Joel Embiid is a beast around the basket, and Ben Simmons has taken just 17 shots outside the paint all season long (and two of those where end-of-quarter heaves from beyond halfcourt). That’s led to a clogged paint and some spacing issues. Philly heads into the trade deadline needing shooters and maybe a more traditional point guard to run the show at times. Whether they have the players and picks to make a trade happen is another question, but GM Elton Brand is being aggressive.

 

Raptors up by 40 at halftime, go on to rout Jazz 130-110

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TORONTO — Fred VanVleet and the Toronto Raptors hardly anticipated an easy night against the Utah Jazz.

“I don’t think any of us expected to be up 40 against that team,” VanVleet said.

Pascal Siakam scored 35 points, VanVleet had 21 points and 11 assists, and the Raptors used a record-setting first half to rout the Jazz 130-110 Sunday.

Toronto led 77-37 at the intermission, the biggest halftime lead in franchise history, the biggest in the NBA this season, and tied for the eighth largest in league history. It also marked the biggest halftime deficit in Jazz history.

“We were awful,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.

Siakam (26 points) and Gasol (11) combined for as many first-half points as the entire Jazz roster, helping Toronto win its franchise-record ninth straight home game to open the season.

The Jazz rallied in the second half but still suffered their biggest defeat of the season. Utah lost by 19 at Indiana last Wednesday.

“Obviously, our focus to begin the game has to be better,” Snyder said.

Siakam shot 4 for 22 and scored a season-low 10 points in Friday’s win at Orlando but bounced back against by making eight of his first 10 field goal attempts. He shot 14 for 22 overall, matching his career high with five 3-pointers. He also had five against New York last Wednesday.

“He’s got a lot of pride in his game,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “When he has an off game, I just think he comes out mentally ready to roll. You could just see him with aggressiveness and confidence.”

Serge Ibaka returned after missing 10 games because of a sprained right ankle and scored 13 points in 21 minutes as Toronto won its seventh straight overall and improved to 5-2 against Western Conference opponents.

Mike Conley scored 20 points and Rudy Gobert had 12 points and 11 rebounds as the Jazz lost for the third time in four games on their five-game trip, which ends at Philadelphia on Monday night.

“We didn’t match their energy at all,” Conley said. “We knew it was going to be physical, we didn’t handle the ball well. We didn’t get back on defense, we didn’t do little things that good teams do.”

Utah’s Jeff Green scored a season-high 19 points and Donovan Mitchell added 16.

Utah took an early lead before Siakam scored 10 points and Gasol added eight during a 23-2 run, giving Toronto a 28-11 lead with 3:24 left in the opening quarter.

Mitchell stopped the Raptors surge with a 3, but Siakam scored 19 points in the first as Toronto led 37-20 after one.

After making just 5 of 27 field goals in the second quarter, the Jazz connected on 16 of their first 19 attempts in the third. Conley scored 13 points in the third and Mitchell had 11 as the Jazz outscored the Raptors 49-30 to cut the gap to 107-86.

Utah big man Ed Davis out at least a month with fractured fibula

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It was one of the smart, under-the-radar pickups of last summer, the Jazz signing solid veteran Ed Davis to back up Rudy Gobert at the five.

However, he will not be doing that for the next month due to a fractured fibula (the smaller bone that runs next to the shin bone), something the team announced on Saturday. The injury happened during the third quarter of Utah’s dramatic loss to Sacramento on Friday night. Davis left the game at the time not to return. From the team’s official press release:

This evaluation revealed a fractured left fibula that was sustained on Nov. 1 at Sacramento. Davis will be reevaluated in four weeks.

While Davis had left the game, he was seen limping only slightly in the locker room later — not on crutches — and the injury was not expected to be this severe.

Tony Bradley will get more minutes as the backup five, and expect some small-ball lineups with Jeff Green at center.

Davis had struggled a little to start the season — as have a number of Jazz players — shooting just 40 percent from the floor and playing 12 minutes a night. The Jazz trust that Davis, and veterans such as Mike Conley, will eventually find their groove and turn the Jazz into contenders.

Davis’ help with that plan will be on hold for a month or so.

Utah has talent, but how far can they go without a superstar?

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Everybody is hot on teams in the Western Conference this year. The Los Angeles Clippers have several superstars. LeBron James finally has Anthony Davis with the Lakers. The Denver Nuggets are back and as deep as ever. The Houston Rockets are trying something new with Russell Westbrook. The Portland Trail Blazers have revamped much of their roster. That’s not left much room for the Utah Jazz, one of the favorites to dominate the regular season this year.

But the Jazz, who are moving forward with Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Ed Davis to go with much of the same team they fielded last year, are a team without a superstar. Depth and cohesiveness will be the weapon that Utah tries to wield against its rivals in West this season, and based on the personalities in play, there is real hope they can do just that.

At the core of this hope is one of the league’s best defenses. According to Cleaning the Glass, Utah was first in the NBA in opponent points per possession, effective field-goal percentage, and offensive rebounding rate. The Jazz were also stingy when giving up shooting fouls, and that perhaps made up for some of their inconsistencies on offense.

In 2018-19, Utah was a decent enough 3-point shooting team and a great squad at attacking the rim in terms of percentage. But the Jazz struggled on corner threes, where they took the second-most shots of any team in the NBA. This was coupled with some of the issues in how the Jazz offense ran. With Ricky Rubio at the helm — and in one of his better years, no less — the team lacked a dynamism at times when they needed it most. Without a team effort, it was often difficult for Utah to get something on the board in critical situations.

That’s the same worry that will present itself this season. Both Conley and Davis are great players, but they aren’t the type that will take over a game consistently in clutch moments. The hope is that Donovan Mitchell will be more comfortable in a role he filled last season, playing off the ball as a combo-guard much in the vein of CJ McCollum.

At age 23, there is lots of room to grow for Mitchell. Hyped as a rookie, opinion has started to turn on the Jazz third-year player. Last season for Utah, Mitchell failed to curb his turnover issues. He also didn’t create offense based off of his usage percentage in a way that was more efficient and it had been as a rookie. Mitchell shot 37 percent from 3-point line last year, which was in the 67th percentile for his position according to Cleaning the Glass. It will be massively helpful if Mitchell can continue to grow his game from beyond the arc this season.

Mitchell is more athletic and explosive than some of the other combo guards we’ve seen come through the NBA as of late, and the real question will be whether he can put aside his first instinct and play smarter next year. Jazz fans are hoping for just that, and perhaps having an older mentor in Conley will help push him in the right direction.

To that end, there are some interesting players on the Jazz roster that clash with the idea that this is a “team only” squad. Emmanuel Mudiay, Dante Exum, and Jeff Green are all players who can attack and play outside of the scheme of normal, boring Quin Snyder offense.

Of course, Utah’s strength will still be its team-oriented style. Joe Ingles is now paired with Bogdanovic in the frontcourt, and that should boost the Jazz 3-point shooting numbers significantly. Last year for the Indiana Pacers, Bogdanovic shot a whopping 52% on all corner threes. He also shot 42% on threes in total, and that should boost the Utah offense as both Conley and Mitchell create opportunities on the drive.

In this same concern is the idea that Conley, a significant upgrade over Rubio, can actually shoot the 3-pointer. The former Memphis Grizzlies star is a 37% career 3-point shooter, far better than Rubio’s mark of 31%. That should stretch the geometry of how opposing defenses try to contain Utah, and give everyone on the floor more opportunities to score efficiently.

The Jazz are a team without a superstar, and that’s cause for concern in today’s NBA. Utah’s defense will once again be great — Rudy Gobert will see to that. But when we talk about lacking stars, we’re really asking questions about a team’s ability to create outside of a team perspective. If the Jazz are going to pick a year to test the team-first theory, this would be the one to do it in the Western Conference. Utah should still be a favorite to make it into the playoffs, but how deep they will go will depend on if their new additions can galvanize in time to withstand attacks from opposing rivals.