Miles Bridges

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

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

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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.

Watch James Harden’s quadruple-double (10 turnovers) as Hornets upset Rockets

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Hornets entered a four-game homestand to open the week on a two-game winning streak that included a road victory at the defending NBA champion Toronto.

After losses to Milwaukee, San Antonio and Denver, a meeting with the Houston Rockets didn’t seem a recipe for snapping a three-game losing streak.

But Charlotte scored the first 20 points and Terry Rozier finished with 24 to help the Hornets beat the slumping Rockets 108-99 on Saturday night.

The Rockets had eight turnovers and missed five 3-pointers on their first 12 possessions.

“This was a good one for us tonight,” said Hornets rookie P.J. Washington, who scored 22 points. “We felt like we should have won the last two so just coming out the same intensity that we did those last two games tonight and it got us a win so we are trying to look to do that the rest of the season.”

Houston, which played without All-Star Russell Westbrook (rest), twice closed within three in the second quarter and within five in the third quarter. Each time the Hornets had an answer.

The Rockets have lost three straight after winning six straight and 10 of 12.

James Harden had 30 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists for his 46th career triple-double and fourth this season. He also had 10 of Houston’s 21 turnovers.

“I don’t know,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said about the slow start. “I’ve never experienced that before, 20-0 that’s a big deficit to overcome and for whatever reason when we did attack we turned it over, it was kind of weird. And we couldn’t stop them. Just a little bit of sluggishness, for whatever reason.”

Added Harden: “We have to do a better job defensively to make our offense a lot better. We didn’t make enough shots. Obviously, down 20-0 is tough to come back on anybody but we did, to give ourselves a chance, but we just couldn’t continue to sustain that kind of intensity throughout the four quarter game.”

Robert Covington added 25 points for the Rockets, and Jeff Green had 20.

Devonte’ Graham added 23 points for Charlotte. Cody Zeller had 13 and Miles Bridges 10.

Hornets coach James Borrego was happy with how his team responded to each Houston challenge after Charlotte took the big early lead, especially when the Rockets had two potential tying 3-pointers misfire in the second quarter.

“The momentum was shifting a little there,” Borrego said. “Our heads were hanging for a second. I could feel it. We called a timeout there and rallied the troops again and everybody picked their spirits up.

“I think the way we closed the second quarter is a big part of this game. And I think that’s the maturity that we’re talking about with this young group.”

On the night where Zion bent a backboard, USA wins Rising Stars game

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CHICAGO — In an unusually entertaining All-Star Friday night Rising Stars game, fans got to see Luka Doncic draining halfcourt shots, Miles Bridges putting on a personal dunkfest then hoisting the MVP trophy, and, for anyone that cared, a 151-131 Team USA win.

That’s not how any of us will remember this game.

This will forever be the game where Zion Williamson broke the backboard.

“When it was halftime, my teammates started telling me about it,” Williamson said, adding he had no idea when it happened. “I don’t think it was me, honestly.”

It was him.

And it was the most memorable highlight of a surprisingly entertaining game.

The Rising Stars game is usually a fairly predictable affair, with a couple of highlights punctuating a game with all the structure of a YMCA pickup run. That’s kind of how this edition started.

Usually, this game has all the fundamentals of a Venice Beach playground game — a whole lot of showboating and attempted spectacular plays — but the first quarter was strangely unenergetic and filled with the “right” basketball plays. Not that there was any defense, but there were kick-outs to the corner instead of dunks, lay-ups, and Rui Hachimura knocking down midrange jumpers. RJ Barrett even used a Euro foul to stop a Williamson alley-oop chance (which drew some boos from the crowd).

But in the final minutes of the first half the game opened up, starting with Ja Morant finding Zion Williamson for the alley-oops everyone came to see.

Then Doncic drained a shot from halfcourt, joking with Trae Young.

The World led by 10 points at the half, led by Barrett’s 15 points, but Charlotte’s Bridges Tweeted out during halftime the USA would get serious when they came out of the locker room.

“The World team was killing us, so we said let’s play for real and I Tweeted that,” Bridges said.

The USA did start to play for real. Bridges and Collin Sexton started to lead a comeback, with the USA eventually grabbing the lead on back-to-back Devonte Graham deep threes. Not long after, Graham’s teammate Bridges had maybe the dunk of the night (at least that didn’t break any equipment).

The USA pulled away in the fourth and the final minutes of the game became a dunkfest, with everyone clearing out and guys trying to put on a show — but Zion could not get his to go.

The World team’s Barrett led all scorers with 27, and Memphis’ Brandon Clarke added 22. Sexton had 21 for the USA squad, with Bridges adding 20. For a

“I stayed at the YMCA in Flint [Michigan] all day and night just trying to get to this level,” Bridges said.

Miles Bridges throws off-the-backboard self alley-oop to one-hand dunk (VIDEO)

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On a night when Zion Williamson bent the backboard, Charlotte’s Miles Bridges may have had the dunk of the night.

Team USA in the All-Star Friday night Rising Stars game had just taken the lead on a pair of Devonte Graham back-to-back deep threes, the Americans were starting to pull away, and then Graham’s teammate Miles Bridges did this.

That. Was. Nasty.

One-handed with authority.

If you want to know how impressive it was, watch the reaction of Trae Young and Ja Morant on the USA bench.

Report: Hornets, Knicks have engaged in Julius Randle trade talks

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Julius Randle was the one player the Knicks signed this summer with a fully guaranteed contract for next season — he was their keeper. Except, within a couple of months of the season starting there were rumors they may not keep him.

Now the Hornets have reached out the Knicks and talked about a possible Randle trade before Thursday’s deadline, reports Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer.

For Charlotte, Randle raises the team’s floor because he can get buckets, and the 25th ranked offense in the NBA could use that.

Most of the trade talk around the Knicks have centered on Marcus Morris (who doesn’t want a trade because he expects to get a long-term deal with the Knicks this summer). Randle may not have as much trade value but he has some, averaging 18.9 points per game, and he is the Knicks leading rebounder at 9.5 per night.

How to construct a trade that makes sense for both teams is harder. The numbers work if Charlotte sends out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Miles Bridges, plus a second-round pick, but does that help the Knicks build for the future. No way the Hornets throw PJ Washington into the mix, and besides that who would New York want?

Teams talk a lot this time of year and little comes of it, this is more likely to be in the majority of talks that do not lead to a deal. But the sides are talking.