Spencer Dinwiddie

Mock NBA expansion draft
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Mock NBA expansion draft: Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Raptors

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

Boston Celtics

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 7

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: Boston’s decisions are fairly cut and dry. Jayson Tatum, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams are all on their rookie-scale contracts. Jaylen Brown will be starting a four-year contract extension. Kemba Walker was just signed to a max contract. Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are good values and key rotation players.

The toughest decision was on Gordon Hayward. Carrying a salary over $34 million, the Celtics are betting he’ll go undrafted and will return to the team. Everyone else was a fairly easy decision to leave unprotected.

Brooklyn Nets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Nets are keeping their big four in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. Jarrett Allen is still on his rookie-scale contract, so that’s an easy decision. With over $101 million on the books for just Durant, Irving, Dinwiddie and LeVert, Nicolas Claxton and Rodions Kurucs help bring some low-cost upside to the back-end of the roster.

DeAndre Jordan will likely go unselected, given his age and $30 million-plus owed through 2022-23. If Jordan is selected, Brooklyn can bank some potential luxury tax savings down the line. Taurean Prince was on the fence, but given his disappointing play this season, and lack of fit in a lineup featuring Durant, the Nets will take their chances he’ll be selected.

New York Knicks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 6

Ineligible – 1

  • Maurice Harkless

Analysis: The Knicks are clearing the decks for a run at free agency this summer. The expansion draft could only help along that way. New York is protecting their young players with upside, as well as Julius Randle, last year’s big free agent addition. The Knicks are also protecting Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier. Not out of fear of losing them, but in hopes that either of the expansion teams will select a bigger salary and take it off the New York cap sheet.

Dennis Smith Jr. was the only questionable player to leave unprotected, but $5.7 million is simply too much for a player out of the rotation. The other five players aren’t part of the future in New York, so that decision was easy.

Philadelphia 76ers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Philadelphia’s decisions make themselves. The highly paid players are key rotation players. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton are steals on minimum contracts. Matisse Thybulle is only entering year two of his rookie scale deal. Zhaire Smith was on the bubble, but he’s young enough, and under team control, that he’s worth protecting.

Al Horford is very unprotected. His signing simply hasn’t worked out for the Sixers. He’s a player Philadelphia is open to talking about a trade with either of the expansion teams. With an extra first-round pick, the 76ers hope to dangle it to entice a team to select Horford.

Toronto Raptors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Raptors don’t have to expose any of their core rotation players in the expansion draft. Up front, Pascal Siakam just inked his contract extension, and OG Anunoby is still on his rookie scale deal. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all free agents. In the backcourt, Toronto can protect Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, along with undrafted find Terence Davis. And Fred VanVleet is a free agent.

The leaves just a handful of players who don’t have a role for the Raptors. Toronto could even entertain offering a second-round pick to entice either expansion team to select Stanley Johnson and take his $3.8 million off the cap/tax.

Three Things to Know: Memphis loss, Portland win tightens race for eight seed in West

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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) Memphis loss, Portland win tightens race for eight seed in West. There is only one race left in the NBA this season. We know who the top seeds in each conference will be, and in the East we know who the eight teams headed to the postseason will be (although there is some jockeying for seedings still taking place).

What we don’t know is who will be the eighth seed in the West.

Tuesday night, the current eight-seeded Memphis Grizzlies took an early lead but couldn’t hold it against Orlando, ultimately falling 120-115. That opened the door a little for Portland, which beat Phoenix behind 25 points from Damian Lillard, while San Antonio got LaMarcus Aldridge back and beat the Mavericks. Memphis’ loss also helped out New Orleans and Sacramento, who had the night off.

Here are the standings at the bottom of the West and what the playoff picture looks like:

Traditionally a 3.5 game lead with 17 games to play would be seen as nearly insurmountable, but that’s where the remaining schedule comes into play. Let’s break it down for each team:

• Memphis (32-33). The Grizzlies have the eighth seed in hand thanks to a Rookie of the Year season from Ja Morant and the rest of a young core stepping up in a way few expected (maybe less than few). However, the Grizzlies have the toughest remaining schedule in the West, including facing the Bucks once and the Raptors twice. It’s so tough that fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR projects them to go 6-11 the rest of the way. Memphis, however, is getting Justise Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr. back healthy soon, and they have been pulling off upset wins (the Lakers at the end of last month, for example). If they can win showdowns like the one at Portland on Thursday, and at least split the home-and-home with New Orleans in just more than a week, they will hold on to this spot.

• New Orleans (28-36, three games back in the loss column). With Zion Williamson making the Pelicans must-watch television, this is the team a lot of fans want to see go up against the Lakers in the first round. (You can be sure this is the team television executives are rooting for to get the spot.) If Zion wants to win Rookie of the Year, he has to lead New Orleans past Morant and Memphis (and that may not be enough, but it makes it interesting). What the Pelicans have going for them is the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA — two games against Atlanta, two against Washington, plus a home-and-home against Memphis. It’s that schedule that has fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR projecting them to go 40-42 — meaning a 12-6 record the rest of the way — and with a 60 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s a lot of things that have to come together, but the Pelicans have been better than their record all season and they are due for a run of good luck and good wins.

• Portland (29-37, four games back in the loss column). Their case for catching Memphis goes like this: We have Damian Lillard, we are about to get Jusuf Nurkic back, and we have a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way. Which is a pretty good case to make; fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR projects them to go 9-7 the rest of the way, finishing with 38 wins. Any chance they have has to start with a win Thursday against Memphis, then holding together during an upcoming six-game road trip. It’s a longshot, fivethirtyeight.com gives them just a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs, but bet against Lillard at your own peril.

• Sacramento (28-36, three games back in the loss column). The Kings are the hottest team in this group, having won 7-of-10, and they have a softer schedule than the Grizzlies (although the Kings do have the Lakers twice and the Clippers once remaining). De’Aaron Fox is trying to lift the Kings to their first playoff berth since 2006 (the longest drought in the league, one of the longest in league history). Kings ownership and management are desperate to get in, but fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR projects them to go 9-8 the rest of the way and fall just short. It gives them an eight percent chance at the playoffs, if the Kings are getting in they need to pull a few upsets down the stretch.

• San Antonio (27-36, three games back in the loss column). The Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 straight seasons, are you going to bet against them? San Antonio also has a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way and they just got LaMarcus Aldridge back, the question is can they overcome what has been a terrible defense all season? Fivethirtyeight.com’s RAPTOR doesn’t think so, projecting the Spurs will go 8-11 the rest of the way, and it gives them just a two percent chance at the postseason. San Antonio beat Dallas on Tuesday and will need a few more upsets like that to extend its playoff streak to 23.

2) Lakers fall into trap game, LeBron James and Anthony Davis miss in the final seconds, Lakers lose to Brooklyn. After beating the Bucks and Clippers over the weekend in emotional, showcase games, this was always a trap game on the schedule for the Lakers. It was a game where they would relax and would then run into a scrappy Brooklyn team that finds a way to compete.

No player on the Nets better epitomizes this ethos than Spencer Dinwiddie, and he hit what proved to be the game-winner.

The Lakers had their chances — and with the ball in the hands of their best players. LeBron James’ game-tying layup attempt rimmed out, and Anthony Davis’ three ball to end it did not fall.

The Lakers are still solidly the top seed in the West and may try to get their stars a little rest down the stretch of the season. The only question is if they want to push to catch Milwaukee for the top seed in the entire league (the Lakers are three games back of the Bucks), and knowing LeBron’s history that should matter less than rest and health.

3) The NBA is increasingly serious about moving games or playing in front of empty arenas. The more you talk to people around the NBA, the more you get the sense the league is dead serious about making some bold moves in the face of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States (the number of confirmed cases climbed in the USA climbed north of 1,000 yesterday).

Wednesday, the NBA owners will have a conference call with Adam Silver and other top officials from the league, then on Thursday it’s team presidents and GMs on more conference calls. On those calls, the league is going to lay out a range of options, including trying to move games to cities where outbreaks have not hit, or to playing games in empty arenas with no fans. The idea of pausing the league is not off the table, but that is the most desperate of acts.

Teams are already facing choices. On Tuesday, Ohio governor Mike DeWine requested there be a pause in mass indoor gatherings to watch sporting events, which would impact the Cavaliers. Other states are expected to follow suit.

It’s tough to say what the NBA will choose to do, in part because the lack of testing has left the United States with an incomplete picture of just how much the virus has spread and where. The league is listening to experts and following guidelines, and that could mean a few radical shifts coming in the next few days. Maybe. Nobody really knows.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis miss their chances, Nets hold off Lakers 104-102

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LOS ANGELES — In his second game as Brooklyn’s interim coach, Jacque Vaughn watched his Nets fight and scrap for 47 1/2 minutes to carve out a two-point lead over the powerhouse Lakers..

Then Vaughn had to watch from the sideline while Anthony Davis launched a last-second 3-pointer that would have undone it all.

“It’s like the joy and pain of basketball,” Vaughn said. “I had the perfect sight line. I see it leave, just watching the flight of it. Looked to see if his feet were behind the line, so I said, ’This is a 3-ball. We’re either losing this thing, or we’re going to win this thing.”

Davis missed. The Nets’ coaching change remains a hit.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 23 points and hit the tiebreaking jumper with 28.3 seconds to play, and Brooklyn beat the Lakers 104-102 Tuesday night for its second straight win since Vaughn surprisingly replaced Kenny Atkinson last week.

Caris LeVert added 22 points as Brooklyn opened its four-game California road trip by beating the Western Conference’s top team.

Davis hit four 3-pointers, but that wide-open 3 at the buzzer would have won it for the Lakers, whose four-game winning streak ended. After back-to-back victories over NBA-leading Milwaukee and the powerhouse Clippers last weekend, the Lakers lost at home for the first time since Feb. 6.

LeBron James had 29 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists for the Lakers, and he flawlessly set up Davis’ final shot by driving the lane and kicking out to his fellow All-Star.

“A great look, a great opportunity to win the game,” James said. “We just missed it. That’s what the game is about.”

Brooklyn had a 97-88 lead with six minutes to play, but the Lakers ratcheted up their defense and cut it to 100-99 on James’ driving layup with 1:47 left.

Davis scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half, and he hit a tying 3-pointer with 42.6 seconds left on a setup from James.

Dinwiddie, a Los Angeles native and lifelong Lakers fans who starred at Taft High School in the San Fernando Valley, calmly drilled his mid-range jumper for the Nets’ first field goal in three minutes.

“It feels good because it’s a high-quality opponent on the road for a team that is doing its best right now to continue to find itself,” Dinwiddie said. “Obviously, we’ve gone through injuries and the coaching change as well. There’s been a ton of up and down. And they’re one of the top, what, three teams in the league, right? The championship contenders, Lakers, Clippers and Bucks. So it’s big for a team that learning and going to try to be a champion to add this win.”

James drove the lane for a layup that somehow rimmed out with 9 seconds to play, but the Lakers got the ball back after the scramble. James again drove and dished to Davis — but the All-Star couldn’t connect to secure the Lakers’ 50th win of the season and a triple-double for James.

“A lot of shots are going to be open with (James’) ability to get in the paint and draw a defense,” Davis said. “It’s our responsibility to finish plays.”

After their wildly successful weekend, the Lakers understandably seemed a bit less passionate in their return, particularly on defense. They led 58-56 at halftime despite committing nine turnovers and playing less-than-impressive defense.

Nets preparing for playoffs after historically late coaching change

Former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson
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Kyrie Irving‘s recent season-ending shoulder surgery mostly elicited shrugs. If anything, the most common response was questioning why Irving tried to tough it out in the first place. From the moment they got Kevin Durant, the Nets were building toward 2020-21, anyway.

Brooklyn’s major moves are all about next season and beyond.

Especially firing Kenny Atkinson.

Everyone seems to agree: Atkinson wasn’t the right coach to guide the Nets into their next era. The Nets obviously thought so, ousting Atkinson on Saturday. Atkinson also said his voice no longer resonated in Brooklyn and that it was time for change, according to Nets general manager Sean Marks.

The conclusion might have been reasonable. Setting a culture requires a somewhat different skill set than helping stars advance further. Just because Atkinson got Brooklyn on track doesn’t mean he was the right coach for Irving and Durant. The Nets could be better off with a new coach next season.

But Brooklyn still has the rest of this season, and that will almost certainly include a playoff berth.

What an unusual time to fire a coach, just 20 games remaining before the postseason.

The Nets weren’t good under Atkinson (28-34). But that was plenty to get into playoff position in the Eastern Conference. He appeared more than qualified to optimize this final stretch.

With Durant sidelined all season and Irving out the rest of the year, Brooklyn looked more similar to the team Atkinson surprisingly coached into the playoffs and that put up a decent fight against the 76ers in the first round last year. These Nets were weaker after losing D'Angelo Russell and several key role players to make room for the stars. But Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert kept enough of the team’s style intact.

Instead, interim coach Jacque Vaughn has already changed Brooklyn’s identity, starting DeAndre Jordan over Allen. Given Jordan’s bond with Durant and Irving and Allen’s incumbent status, that switch made waves.

And the playoffs are just around the corner. The seventh-place Nets have a six-game cushion for postseason position. They’re still a safe bet to make it.

Here are the playoff teams that changed coaches with the fewest games remaining:

Nets

The last time a playoff-bound team fired a coach with fewer than 30 games remaining? The Pistons dropping Alvin Gentry in 2000, when George Irvine took over with just 24 games left.

In the other two more-recent cases that leaderboard, Mike D’Antoni (2012 Knicks) and Don Nelson (2005 Mavericks) resigned.

This Nets franchise is no stranger to this type of chaos. In 1983, New Jersey went from Larry Brown to Bill Blair with just six games left. Brown agreed to become coach at Kansas and initially planned to take over after the NBA season. The Nets told him it’d be best to leave immediately.

But Brown thrust the Nets into a difficult situation. This time, they invited the shakeup.

Brooklyn was headed toward a first-round loss, regardless. But the door is always open for an upset. Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s injury shows how the Bucks could be susceptible. The Raptors, Celtics and Heat aren’t invincible. Even merely being more competitive in a first-round defeat has value.

Whatever the Nets hope to accomplish this postseason, they’ll enter it without Atkinson. The long-term calculus of firing him is easier to grasp. The timing – so close to a playoffs that won’t include Durant and Irving, anyway – is still difficult to digest.

Repeatedly slighted, Jarrett Allen rising above it for Nets

Nets center Jarrett Allen
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DETROIT – Jarrett Allen ran off the court after a Nets win and jumped to high-five a fan about 11 feet off the floor. The crowd in that section buzzed at Allen’s above-rim-level leap.

Then, Kyrie Irving came through.

The ovation swelled for the the star who had just dazzled with 45 points.

“I’m going to pretend they’re cheering for me, Ky,” Allen said as he and Irving ran toward the locker room.

“They are cheering for you,” Irving replied.

That was rare affirmation for Allen, who has repeatedly appeared overlooked with Brooklyn.

Despite Allen proving himself as a quality young starting center on a playoff team last season, the Nets signed DeAndre Jordan – notably a friend of Irving and Kevin Durant – to a lucrative four-year contract last summer. Jordan, 31, is nearly a decade older than Allen.

A couple months ago, Irving said it’s glaring Brooklyn needs another piece or two to complement himself, Durant, Jordan, Garrett Temple, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. Omitted from that list: Allen.

Ironically, Allen is the type of low-maintenance role player the Nets could really use around Durant and Irving.

Allen brushed off noise about Jordan supplanting him, kept his starting spot and bonded with the veteran center. Allen also said he spoke to Irving and quickly put that quote behind him.

“I wasn’t really concerned,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, I can’t really control any of that. So, I’m not going to worry about it has been my philosophy.”

It’s a philosophy that fits Allen’s no-nonsense game.

He runs pick-and-rolls. He finishes lobs. He protects the rim.

Durant and Irving will dominate the ball next season. That leads to complications with Dinwiddie and LeVert, two young players who are also better on the ball. Allen carries no such fit concerns.

Allen has possessed the ball just 53 minutes all season. For perspective, that’s less than Nets backup shooting guard Theo Pinson, who’s not even in the rotation. It’s less than half as much as Montrezl Harrell, another energy big.

Yet, Allen still contributes. He ranks 46th in the league with 4.3 PIPM-based wins added.

Allen ranks among the league leaders wins added per 100 minutes of possession:

Nets center Jarrett Allen

Helping without the ball is such an important skill next to Durant and Irving. Allen checks that box.

How much do the Nets value it?

Allen will be eligible for a contract extension this offseason. His 18.7 career win shares (and counting) entering his rookie-scale-extension window put him in line to slightly outpace comps like Greg Monroe, Kenneth Faried and Jonas Valanciunas.

The Pistons reportedly didn’t offer Monroe an extension in 2013, watched him accept the qualifying offer then lost him to a max deal from the Bucks in unrestricted free agency in 2015. The Nuggets gave Faried a four-year, $50 million extension in 2014. The Raptors gave Valanciunas a four-year, $64 million extension in 2015.

The salary cap has escalated significantly since. The extension market changes each year, as deals influence each other.

Allen ranks second in win shares among players who’ll be eligible for rookie-scale extensions this summer, behind only Heat big Bam Adebayo:

Nets center Jarrett Allen

Obviously, Allen isn’t as good as Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell. Win shares probably overrates efficient, but limited, bigs like Allen. There is also a surplus of effective centers around the league, lowering all their values.

But this speaks to a truth: Allen has consistently produced in his role.

In Brooklyn or elsewhere, expect that to continue.

“He’s too good, obviously,,” Dinwiddie said, “not to be a factor in the league.”