Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Mock NBA expansion draft
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Mock NBA expansion draft: Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Suns, Kings

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

Golden State Warriors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: The Warriors have their core together with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Ky Bowman, Marquese Chriss, Damion Lee and Eric Paschall provide value on minimum contracts. That’s all the Warriors need to protect.

Golden State wouldn’t mind seeing Kevon Looney or Jordan Poole selected to get the salaries off the cap sheet. The rest of the players are ones the Warriors won’t lose any sleep over if they’re drafted.

L.A. Clippers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: L.A. has its main guys with four starters under contract. They aren’t being exposed here. The other three players are key bench contributors on good contracts. And Kabengele and Mann were just drafted. Easy decisions across the board for the Clippers.

L.A. could lose Green as a free agent. The Clippers also bet he does undrafted and could return. Rodney McGruder makes too much money for his role.

Los Angeles Lakers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: The Lakers and Anthony Davis will work out that he’ll opt out before the expansion draft, which makes him ineligible. The rest of the players are role players that Los Angeles would rather keep around LeBron James than risk losing.

Los Angeles won’t be upset to see Quinn Cook or Rajon Rondo selected. They’re both replacement-level players for the Lakers at this point.

Phoenix Suns

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Phoenix keeps it simple and protects all the guys who are part of its core. The Suns could have left Dario Saric unprotected, but by protecting Saric, they keep the flexibility to re-sign him as a restricted free agent. The rest are all easy decisions.

Of the unprotected players, none of have established themselves as NBA rotation players. If any are selected, Phoenix won’t lose any sleep over it.

Sacramento Kings

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Kings will protect their five starters and three key reserves. Cory Joseph is a decision-point, but considering De’Aaron Fox’s injury issues, Joseph is too valuable to let walk away.

Sacramento won’t mind if Jabari Parker is selected, but they aren’t going to pay anyone to do it. Justin James has been an interesting prospect, but the Kings won’t stress if he gets selected.

Three Things to Know: It was a good day, Lakers get LeBron game-winner, sign Markieff Morris

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) It was a good day, Lakers get LeBron dagger, sign Markieff Morris.
The ghost of drafts past and playoffs future haunted the Lakers on Sunday — all in the form of Jayson Tatum.

Three years ago, the Lakers drafted Lonzo Ball No. 2, the Celtics took Jayson Tatum No. 3 — and Tatum has proven to be the better pick. On Sunday, taking over playmaking responsibilities with Kemba Walker out, Tatum dropped 41 on the Lakers, forced L.A. to adjust its defense and double him in the fourth. It was Tatum who pushed Boston to a lead in the third quarter. After the game, LeBron gave Tatum a shoutout on Instagram.

LeBron, however, had the final word (the day before the Kobe Bryant memorial in the same building, it was fitting). In what was one of the best games of the regular season — despite some questionable officiating that took the flow out of the game late — it was LeBron’s fade-away midranger over Jaylen Brown that was the game-winner.

 

If the Lakers had drafted Tatum, he likely would have been traded to New Orleans — just like Ball was — to bring Anthony Davis west. Tatum is an All-Star, but Davis was all-world on Sunday with 32 points and 13 rebounds, both team highs. The Lakers don’t win this, or much of anything else this season, without him.

Tatum’s big night was also a reminder the Lakers struggle to slow athletic wings — something that could be a real issue come the playoffs. Big wings — such as Kawhi Leonard and Ben Simmons (more point guard than wing, but same ball handling concept) — have had big nights against the Lakers. Look around the West and you can see where this could be a serious playoff issue.

Can Markieff Morris help? The Lakers officially signed him on Sunday after he cleared waivers (Los Angeles let DeMarcus Cousins go to make room). Morris will come off the bench at the four behind Anthony Davis, and could play next to AD (with Kyle Kuzma at the three) in some lineups.

Can Morris handle Leonard or Paul George or Bojan Bogdanovic? Probably not, but Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma can’t either. Morris is another player the Lakers can throw in that mix. If need be, the Lakers can close games with LeBron on that wing player down the stretch — he can have a defensive impact. And we know he knows how to close games.

2) Zion Williamson was too much for Golden State to handle. Every game, Zion Williamson gets a little bit better. Which is scary.

Over his last five game he has averaged 27.4 points on 63.1 percent shooting. He’s also averaging 3.4 offensive rebounds a game — and if he doesn’t get the rebound, he’ll just rip it away from the guy who did.

That was just two of the 28 points Williamson put up against the Warriors Thursday. Every bucket seemed to be a highlight. Williamson also dropped a defender to the ground.

And, of course, there were the monster dunks.

These are not empty-calorie points that Zion is getting, he could be leading them to the playoffs. The Pelicans are 4-1 in their last five games with a +9.9 net rating. They sit just 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West, and the Grizzlies have the toughest remaining schedule in the West while the Pelicans have the easiest.

3) Just 56 games into the season, the Bucks have already clinched a playoff spot. On Sunday, Bradley Beal dropped 53 points on Chicago and that still wasn’t enough to get the lowly Wizards a win; they fell to the Chicago Bulls.

The Wizards are ninth in the East, and their loss clinched a playoff spot for the Bucks. Already. Just 56 games into the season — the 48-8 Bucks are 27.5 games up on the Wizards now. The Bucks can lose every game from here on out and they are in the playoffs.

Milwaukee is on pace to win 70 games, and their owner has hinted the team sees that as a goal. The Bucks also have title aspirations, and they may want to ask the Warriors if the push for winning 70+ games is worth it come the playoffs. That said, the Bucks have gotten Giannis Antetokounmpo rest because they are blowing teams out, so he doesn’t have to play late. Antetokounmpo is averaging 30.9 minutes a game and is 72nd in the league in total minutes played in the league this season. His workload has not been that brutal.

Mike Budenholzer just needs to be willing to up those minutes this postseason, up to 42 or more a night some games, to make sure they win. Budenholzer said last season that he didn’t think more minutes for the Greek Freak was the answer to the Bucks playoff struggles, if the Bucks are going to win the East this season — they should, they are the best team — he will need to change that mindset.

Lakers will reportedly have conversation with Dion Waiters after Grizzlies waive him

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Dion Waiters was not long for Memphis. He was used for his salary to balance out the money on the trade that brought Justise Winslow to Memphis in what most people will remember as the Andre Iguodala trade. Waiters did not have a role as a two-guard on a Grizzlies team already loaded at that position with the just extended Dillon Brooks, De'Anthony Melton, and Grayson Allen.

The Grizzlies announced Sunday they have waived Waiters, as was expected.

The Lakers will have a conversation about picking him up, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

Waiters’ former agent is Rob Pelinka, who is now the Lakers’ GM. Waiters’ current agent is Rich Paul, who reps both LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Those kinds of connections get him an interview.

The Lakers are looking to add playmaking and shooting through the buyout market, if they can find it. Waiters can shoot the rock — 37.7 percent from three last season and 38.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes — but is not much of a playmaker. The Lakers are already getting minutes from Avery Bradley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the two-guard spot. Waiters has played a fair amount at the point in Miami, but he’s not the kind of playmaker the Lakers are seeking.

We’ll see if anything comes of this, but expect the Lakers to be linked to every player bought out in the coming weeks. They also are expected to have a workout with J.R. Smith this week.

The Lakers will be looking for an upgrade after standing pat at the trade deadline then having Darren Collison decide to stay retired.

Three Things to Know: Clint Capela, Derrick Rose, trade rumors heading into deadline

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Trade Deadline is Thursday, here are the rumors flying around the league. Often it takes the pressure of a deadline to strip away the “we want a lottery pick” pretense, for the offers to get real and trades to get done. This season things are even more backed up because potential sellers — New Orleans, Sacramento, others — were still in the playoff mix despite their records. Those teams were waiting to decide on whether to make trades or go for the playoffs.

Now things get serious. The trade deadline is Thursday, just a few days away. Teams traditionally take Super Bowl Sunday off, but Monday the phone lines will light up around the league. Here are the hottest rumors and things to watch.

Houston is open to trading Clint Capela. This is the most fascinating move on the board.

Capela is the best trade piece the Rockets have — an athletic big man with a reasonable contract going out three seasons after this one — but if they trade him then they have to get another center back from somewhere. It’s a fun gimmick to play a 6’6” and under lineup in a regular season game (the Rockets may do it again) but in a West with the size of the Lakers and Clippers, plus guys like Nikola Jokic in Denver and Rudy Gobert in Utah, the Rockets can’t roll out P.J. Tucker at center in the playoffs and win.

Houston has been linked to Robert Covington talks, and Minnesota is reportedly asking for two first-round picks.

Covington is a 3&D wing who would fit with the Rockets, but if you trade Capela to get the picks to land him, then who is your center? Throw Noah Vonleh or Jordan Bell (both on the Timberwolves bench) in a deal? It’s just hard to see how Houston puts together a trade that makes them better than either of the Los Angeles teams, and if they are not contenders will owner Tilman Fertitta be willing to pay the tax for the Rockets this season?

• The buzz from sources around the league is Covington will get traded… somewhere. The price has been too steep so far, but when that comes down a little this week some team — maybe the 76ers — gets a deal done.

• Everyone expects the Clippers to make a move, something Ric Bucher got into at Bleacher Report. This is a win-now team looking for more size up front — is Ivica Zubac really the starting center on a title team? Montrezl Harrell destroys second-unit centers but can he close playoff games? — and a little more point guard depth. The Clippers can trade their first-round pick in the June draft, plus they have Moe Harkless and his $11.5 million to put into a trade. The Clippers can be players.

Would the Clippers go after Andre Iguodala, both to add wing depth and to keep him away from the Lakers?

One other interesting Clippers question: Would they trade Harrell? He’s part of the heart of this team, but he’s also about to be a free agent who will make at least $18 million a season going forward, do the Clippers want to pay that? Harrell would have real trade value if the Clippers wanted to swing for the fences. Just remember the Clippers are good at keeping big moves quiet — both trading for Paul George and trading away Blake Griffin were massive deals that seemed to come out of nowhere because L.A. kept a lid on it until the last second.

• Down the hall, the Lakers are actively looking at trades, they just don’t have good options. They have made Kyle Kuzma available, but he makes just $2 million, and the Lakers don’t have a lot of other players they can aggregate with him in a deal to get to a good number (remember that Rajon Rondo, JaVale MaGee, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can all veto a trade because it would cost them their Bird rights). DeMarcus Cousins makes $3.5 million, but would $5.5 million really get them a big upgrade over Kuzma? Just hard to see the Lakers getting a big deal done. However, if Darren Collison comes out of retirement to them the Lakers get an upgrade without pulling the trigger on a trade.

• Boston is actively looking for a center, it’s just hard for them to construct a trade. Yes, they have potentially three first-rounders in this coming draft, but in terms of money it’s hard for them to put together matching salary for a decent player without throwing in Marcus Smart or Gordon Hayward. And that’s not happening.

Derrick Rose does not want to be traded, he likes Detroit, but he is available.

The Lakers have been linked, but if the Lakers have to send out Kuzma and Avery Bradley for Rose is that enough of an upgrade for L.A. to pull that trigger? And, would the Pistons do that, they reportedly have been asking for a lottery-level pick to trade Rose. Expect a lot of Rose rumors this week, but come Friday he could still be a Piston.

• Dallas reportedly has looked at a wing upgrade with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

• Expect the Knicks to trade Marcus Morris. He would help a lot of playoff teams, and the Knicks need more pieces for the rebuild. (Or, they should be stockpiling assets for their rebuild, but James Dolan still owns the Knicks so all bets on them following a logical path are off.)

• Oklahoma City likely will not trade the massive salaries of Chris Paul or Steven Adams, and the Thunder will remain a tough-out playoff team. Danilo Gallinari still is a name bouncing around who could get moved.

• These rumors are just the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, there may be fewer trades than fans want — and most of the trades that go down may well be more about salary dumps than player upgrades — but there will be a lot of rumors flying around and some deals done this week. Keep checking NBC Sports for all the latest trade news.

2) Zion Williamson is playing very well, but James Harden’s 40 points proved too much in Rockets’ win. The combination of the tragic Kobe Bryant news and the trade deadline have stolen the thunder from this story, but it’s can’t be ignored for long:

Zion Williamson is tearing up the NBA so far.

In six games, he’s averaging 19.5 points on 66.7 percent shooting, plus getting 8.2 rebounds a game. He’s a beast on the offensive glass and, while he still looks lost at points on defense (as rookies do) he shows real potential on that end. Williamson had 21 points and 10 rebounds against the Rockets on Super Bowl Sunday.

That wasn’t enough however because James Harden’s 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine asissts was too much and snapped the Pelicans three-game win streak.

3) Toronto wins 11th in a row beating Bulls. The Raptors remain the hottest team in the NBA, thanks to a combination of getting healthy, a soft part of the schedule, and… Terence Davis?

Yes, Terence Davis. He dropped a career-high 31 on Chicago Sunday to lead the Raptors to an 11th consecutive win.

Kawhi who? The Raptors are 36-14, second in the East (two games up on third seed Boston), Pascal Siakam is starting the All-Star Game and Nick Nurse is a frontrunner for Coach of the Year (in a crowded field). The big name may have gone home but this is still a very good team.

LeBron James’ triple-double leads Lakers to first win since Kobe’s death

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Lakers say they are fully prepared for the steady stream of tributes for Kobe Bryant that they will surely see the rest of the season.

LeBron James welcomes it, calling it a therapeutic and needed part of the Lakers’ healing process.

James had another triple-double despite an off-night shooting, Anthony Davis scored 21 points and Los Angeles thumped the Sacramento Kings 129-113 on Saturday, its first win since Bryant’s death.

“It’s never going to feel normal. It’s never going to feel the same,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “But we got our first win since this happened. There’s going to be a lot of important steps for us along the way and this was definitely one.”

James had 15 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds while helping Los Angeles end a two-game skid. James shot 6 of 15 and missed three of four 3-pointers but made up for it with his 11th triple-double of the season and the 92nd of his career.

The Lakers were playing the second half of a back-to-back, one night after an emotional 127-119 loss to Portland at Staples Center in their first game since Sunday’s helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others.

During the first timeout less than four minutes into the game, a video of both Bryant and Gianna playing basketball was shown on the giant scoreboard as members of both the Lakers and Kings watched. The numbers 8 and 24 flashed on the court as Bryant’s voice echoed through the building.

Tributes continued to play throughout the game as fans – many wearing Bryant’s jerseys – repeatedly chanted his name.

“We’re prepared for it. We understand it and we hope it happens every night just because of the legacy that he’s left behind,” James said. “We’re prepared for it as a team, as an organization and we’re going to continue to get through it. It’s our obligation just to go out and play the game, have that winning mentality because that’s what he would want.”

A memorial wall with pictures of Bryant and Gianna was set up outside one of the main entrances to Golden 1 Center. Fans scrawled messages on the wall and left flowers.

Inside, the Lakers did their best to move forward following the tragedy that left the entire organization reeling.

They scored 44 points in the first quarter, made 14 3s and dished out 26 assists before halftime, dominating the Kings on both ends while building an 81-64 lead.

Avery Bradley added 19 points, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 15 and Rajon Rondo had 13 points and eight assists for Los Angeles.

James capped a fast break with a two-handed dunk in the second quarter that drew roars from the crowd, then made a long bounce pass to Caldwell-Pope for a layup. James followed that with another dunk, and Rondo added a 3-pointer.

“Tonight, it was get back on track,” Vogel said. “Let’s get back to business and go out and get a win, no matter what.”

De’Aaron Fox scored 24 points and Buddy Hield had 22 for Sacramento.

“That was a really good team that was unfortunately … they were locked in,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “Give them credit, they came out firing.”

The Kings got within 108-93 early in the fourth quarter before the Lakers pulled away. James had a 3-pointer, Rondo scored twice and Caldwell-Pope made three free throws.

“We wanted to put together a complete game and we did that tonight,” James said.