Pat Connaughton

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers, Bucks

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

Chicago Bulls

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 7

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: Chicago keeps their young building blocks, as well as the veterans they acquired to support them. In the end, the Bulls hope that this group can finally get healthy and make a playoff push. That means protecting all of them.

Chandler Hutchison was the toughest decision among the unprotected players. He’s still on his rookie scale contract, but he hasn’t been healthy during his first two seasons. That means the Bulls prioritize a veteran or two over him. Kris Dunn is another tough player to leave unprotected, but as a free agent, there is no guarantee he’d be back anyway.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Cavaliers are in a spot to really clean up their cap sheet if either Kevin Love or Larry Nance Jr. are selected. That made the protection decisions pretty easy. Keep all the young guys and the guys on decent contracts. Andre Drummond doesn’t really fit either description there, but Cleveland did just trade for him.

Detroit Pistons

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 1

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: This one has some gamesmanship involved. Because the Pistons have five free agents, they only need to leave the minimum of one player unprotected. It’s that one player that makes the eight protected players easy decisions. Sure, there are young guys in that group Detroit wants to keep. But a handful are players the Pistons wouldn’t lose sleep over seeing get drafted.

On the flip side, by leaving only Blake Griffin unprotected, Detroit opens the possibility of getting that albatross salary off their books. The Pistons don’t have any extra first-round picks, but could be open to moving one of their own to entice and expansion team to take on the remaining $77.8 million in salary over the next two seasons.

Indiana Pacers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Pacers protection decisions were fairly easy. Every player they are protecting is a key rotation player or a recent draftee.

It was a little difficult to leave Jeremy Lamb and T.J. McConnell unprotected, but Lamb is coming off a major injury. An expansion team may not want to deal with that. While McConnell has been good for Indiana, he’s a little expendable with Aaron Holiday on the roster.

Milwaukee Bucks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Bucks deep roster works against them a little bit here. Seven of the protected players were fairly easy decisions. The only one that was tricky was Wesley Matthews. He’s a veteran with a player option, but Milwaukee isn’t taking chances with one of their starters.

On the unprotected front, it came down to Matthews vs D.J. Wilson and Sterling Brown. Ultimately, neither young player has cracked the rotation on a regular basis. That makes it a little more palatable to leave them exposed in the expansion draft.

Aaron Gordon dunks over 7’5″ Tacko Fall, somehow still robbed of Dunk Contest win

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CHICAGO — Aaron Gordon cannot catch a break in an All-Star Dunk Contest dunk-off.

In the best Dunk Contest since 2016 — when Gordon controversially lost in a dunk-off to Zach LaVine — Gordon lost another dunk-off, this time despite dunking over 7’5″ Tacko Fall for the final dunk of the night.

“Jumping over somebody 7’5″ [note: without shoes] and dunking is no easy feat,” Gordon said, stating the obvious. “What did I get, like a 47? Come on, man. What are we doing?”

Yes, Gordon got a 47 out of 50 for that dunk and the crowd in the United Center was not happy with the judges, but that was a theme for the night. The judges, for their part, apparently were conspiring to send the dunk-off to a third round but screwed it up.

 

Gordon, who now has lost three Dunk Contests, two in dunk-offs, leaves the peoples’ champ but he is not coming back.

“It’s a wrap, bro. It’s a wrap. I feel like I should have two trophies,” Gordon said when asked if he would do another Dunk Contest.

Gordon should have gotten a 50 and won on that last dunk, but make no mistake, Derrick Jones Jr. earned the win — most of the night his dunks were cleaner and, to my eyes, right there with Gordon’s.

Jones — who turned 23 on Saturday — started the final round by leaping over two people and taking the ball between the legs.

Then went off the side of the backboard, between the legs and threw it down.

Jones was ready for the extra dunks.

“I got a whole lot in my arsenal,” Jones said of the couple extra dunks. “I knew every dunk that I was going to do even if it went to overtime. I planned this.”

This was a great dunk contest because it wasn’t just the two finalists who were throwing down epic dunks.

One of the most entertaining dunks of the night came from the Bucks’ Pat Connaughton — the white guy in the contest leaned into it and went with the White Men Can’t Jump dunk. He did it over the Brewers Christian Yelich, but somehow only got a 45.

Connaughton won the crowd over again with his second dunk, taking the ball from Giannis Antetokounmpo, tapping backboard, and then dunking. That got him a deserved 50.

Dwight Howard broke out the Superman dunk again, but this time as a tribute to Kobe.

The NBA history books will record this as a Derrick Jones Jr. win. But everyone who watched this contest knows who won.

Pat Connaughton does awesome ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ dunk (video)

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CHICAGO – Pat Connaughton is white. He’s in the dunk contest.

He leaned right into it.

Connaughton so magnificently imitated Billy Hoyle from “White Men Can’t Jump” – the outfit, the dorky warm-up jumps and (with an added degree of difficulty getting the ball) of course the dunk, right down to the rim hang:

Unfortunately for Connaughton, he changed into his Bucks jersey, didn’t perform as well on his second dunk (though scored higher by tapping the ball onto the backboard) and got eliminated.

Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins reflect on legendary 1988 dunk contest battle

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CHICAGO — Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins have never talked to one another about the 1988 dunk contest.

They might be the only ones.

It is still the dunk contest by which all other dunk contests are measured: Two stars, at the peak of their powers, the players who finished first and second in that season’s scoring standings, going head-to-head to decide a winner. Jordan left the old Chicago Stadium that night with the trophy. To this day, many believe Wilkins was the rightful winner. Either way, it was a never-to-be-forgotten show – and now, for the first time since that night 32 years ago, the dunk contest is returning to Chicago on Saturday night.

“I did have a homecourt advantage, yes,” Jordan said this week in an interview with The Associated Press.

“The fans got their money’s worth,” Wilkins said in a separate interview with AP.

This season’s dunk contest entrants – Orlando’s Aaron Gordon, Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr., the Los Angeles Lakers’ Dwight Howard and Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton – will have quite a show to follow if what they do on Saturday is going to stand the test of time that the Jordan-Wilkins contest has.

To this day, Wilkins believes he should have won.

And to this day, he still tips his cap to what Jordan did that night.

“We were foes and we had some great battles, but he understood the moment,” Wilkins said. “He understood what we did, you know? So, for us, there’s no hard feelings. There’s no animosity. We love the fact that they still talk about it because we knew what we brought.”

None of this year’s four dunk contest participants are All-Stars. It was different 32 years ago, when the dunk contest was being held for only the fifth time. Jordan was the MVP in 1988, Wilkins was sixth in that season’s MVP voting, and they were the only players that season who averaged more than 30 points per game.

“It’s a little bit different today. And it’s probably much harder today because how many times can you do the same dunks over and over again?” Jordan said. “So, they are trying to create things that people haven’t seen and that means jumping over people and cars and stuff like that. We didn’t have to do that because we didn’t have anything preceding us.”

The 1988 field was stacked. Wilkins had won in 1985. Spud Webb won in 1986. Jordan won in 1987. They were all in the field, along with Greg Anderson, Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey and Otis Smith.

“My memories more so than anything was that I was representing Chicago,” Jordan said. “I just wanted to represent them well. I wanted to win, don’t get me wrong. But I also knew Dominique was an unbelievable dunker and very athletic and a human highlight film. So, I had to come up with certain things that are very special and unique.”

Of course, it came down to Wilkins vs. Jordan. Three dunks each to decide the title. Both got a perfect score – 50 – on their first dunk in the final round. Wilkins got another 50 in the second round, with Jordan getting only a 47. That meant Wilkins, who was first to dunk in each round of the finals, needed only a 48 to clinch the win over Jordan.

Wilkins went with a two-handed windmill for his final dunk. The judges’ score: 45. Drexler looked on in disbelief.

“I was surprised at his score,” Jordan said.

The door was open for Jordan. He tried a dunk from the foul line and missed, but the rules allowed two chances per attempt. The second effort is the one replayed about a billion times since: He took off from just inside the foul line, pulled the ball back a bit before finishing off the slam, and got the perfect score of 50.

Final score: Jordan 147, Wilkins 145.

“The dunk contest, Nique got robbed,” said Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers coach who that year was an All-Star representing Atlanta – Wilkins’ team as well – in his hometown of Chicago. “But other than that, it was a perfect weekend.”

The dunk contest has had its ups and downs since.

It went away for a couple of years. Fred Jones, a journeyman who played for five teams in seven seasons, was the 2004 champion. Jeremy Evans – he averaged 3.5 points per game in his career – won in 2012. The NBA tried a team concept with three guys representing each conference in 2014; it wasn’t well received. Only the most ardent fan probably remembers that last year’s winner was Hamidou Diallo.

There have been some stars: Kobe Bryant won in 1997 and Vince Carter prevailed in 2000, a win that still draws raves from Jordan.

The highest compliment, in fact.

“The most amazing dunk I have ever seen is probably Vince Carter when he hung his elbow in the rim,” Jordan said. “To me that was, without question, just unbelievable.”

But most of the biggest names – and many considered among the best dunkers of their generation – have taken a pass on the dunk contest. LeBron James has never entered one, nor has Russell Westbrook, and Dwyane Wade didn’t either.

“I’d have loved to have seen LeBron,” Wilkins said.

Jordan agreed, saying he knows fans are clamoring to have seen James try it at least once.

“What we did in the game and excitement that we created when we did dunk,” Jordan said. “People wanted to see that. Is it the same today? Maybe not.”

Dwight Howard, Aaron Gordon headline NBA All-Star Dunk Contest participants

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Superman is back.

Dwight Howardwho won the NBA Dunk Contest back in 2008 — is returning a dozen years to “defend” his crown.

Tuesday the NBA made official what we already knew, the four participants in the All-Star Saturday night NBA Dunk Contest are:

Pat Connaughton, Bucks.
Aaron Gordon, Magic.
• Dwight Howard, Lakers.
Derrick Jones Jr., Heat.

The casual fan may look at those names, think about the up and down nature of the dunk contest, and think “meh.” But there is a lot of potential in that group.

Derrick Jones Jr., making his second Dunk Contest appearance, should be the betting favorite for my money. He is arguably the best in-game dunker in the league today.

Aaron Gordon should have won this thing in 2016 and is fully capable of winning it next weekend.

The Dwight Howard Redemption Tour 2020 will return to the dunk contest, and sleep on him at your own peril.

Pat Connaughton is a flat out athlete. He could be a major league pitcher right now, but instead he will be throwing it down in the Dunk Contest.

The Dunk Contest format is the same as it has been for a while. All four participants get two dunks in the first round, with three attempts to complete the dunk. A panel of five celebrity finalists will judge each dunk. The players with the two highest scores advance n to the final round where they will do two more dunk competition.