Thabo Sefolosha

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

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

Leave a comment

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.

Kevin Durant wants to see marijuana taken off the NBA’s banned substances list

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Like some other outdated ideas that had become the law of the land, attitudes and the legality of marijuana use are changing around the nation as younger generations come to power. Currently, 11 states have legalized recreational use, and all but three other states have done some combination of decriminalization and allowing it for medical use.

Sports, always a mirror to society (for both good and bad) is changing as well. Marijuana is no longer a banned substance in Major League Baseball. In the NHL it is technically banned but there are no punishments for use.

However, in the NBA a third positive test can lead to a suspension for five games — Michael Beasley, Nerlens Noel, Thabo Sefolosha, and J.R. Smith have been hit with that in recent years. Current players have estimated that between half and 85 percent of the players in the league use (I’d guess on the higher end of that range).

Kevin Durant thinks its time for the NBA to take pot off the banned substance list, as he said in the — not coincidentally named — “All The Smoke” podcast recently (hat tip to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News for listening to the pod and writing it up).

“We start getting people out of jail for marijuana. That’s the next step,” Durant said. “And just keep going. But it’s a plant that’s put here for a reason, and that’s to bring us together. Hopefully it happens (removing marijuana from the banned substance list), especially in the NBA.”

Durant went on to compare weed to caffeine.

“Everybody on my team drinks coffee every day. Taking caffeine every day. Or guys go out to have wine after games or have a little drink here and there. Marijuana should be in that tone,” Durant said. “Why are we even talking about? It shouldn’t even be a conversation now. So hopefully we can get past that and the stigma around it and know that it does nothing but make people have a good time, make people hungry, bring people together — that plant brings us all together.”

Just for transparency, we should note Durant is an investor in two marijuana businesses.

That doesn’t make him wrong. The NBA legal team would want to note that marijuana is currently a schedule 1 controlled substance in the United States, meaning federal law equates it to heroin or cocaine or LSD. That’s not something likely to change under the current administration. The NBA can just sit back and wait for the federal government and a few states to catch up with everyone else, make pot legal, and make it easy on them going forward.

Which is not what an actually progressive league would do.

A progressive league would follow Durant’s suggestion and take it off the banned substance list.

While today’s NBA players take fewer anti-inflammatories, pain killers, and other prescribed drugs than the players a generation ago, they are still prevalent. Marijuana use is not going to eliminate the need for those drugs, but it could reduce the need. That would need to be studied, but there’s logic to it. And anything that moves players off of those more addictive, more damaging prescribed medications is a good thing.

Durant is on the right track. It just likely will take the league a little while to catch up.

 

Report: Rockets trading Jordan Bell to Grizzlies for Bruno Caboclo

Grizzlies forward Bruno Caboclo vs. Rockets
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Rockets really have no interest in playing a center, huh?

Houston just traded starting center Clint Capela to the Hawks. In that four-way deal, the Rockets also got Jordan Bell, who can play center.

But Houston is re-routing Bell to the Grizzlies for Bruno Caboclo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Both Bell and Caboclo are on expiring minimum contracts.

Houston has a fascination with Caboclo. There’s still time for the Rockets to add a center, including someone bought out. But for now, it’s the P.J. Tucker show with Thabo Sefolosha, Isaiah Hartenstein and Tyson Chandler in relief.

Bell doesn’t fit as well in Memphis with the Grizzlies also acquiring Gorgui Dieng. But I’d generally rather have Bell than Caboclo. Bell’s minimum salary is also slightly lower than Caboclo’s.

And in case you’re wonder, Houston can afford the salary difference while remaining under the luxury-tax line. What a strange coincidence.

Report: Rockets trying to dodge luxury tax before trade deadline

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
Tim Warner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

After the Rockets got eliminated last season, owner Tilman Fertitta put on a big show about his commitment to winning.

Of course, a huge reason Houston lost to the Warriors: spending cuts.

Fertitta insisted the luxury tax had nothing to do with the team’s 2018 offseason – a summer of moves that make sense only when assessed through a luxury-tax lens. When the Rockets completed an elaborate series of transactions – surrendering assets to trim payroll rather than upgrade players – to get under the luxury-tax line at last year’s trade deadline, Fertitta said he was surprised by the outcome and called it a fluke. Houston even put out word general manager Daryl Morey had the greenlight to pay the luxury tax this season.

In reality…

Jabari Young of CNBC:

According to league sources who spoke to CNBC, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is seeking to shed additional salary off the team’s nearly $140 million payroll hoping to avoid a luxury tax.

The Rockets shouldn’t have too hard of a time dodging the luxury tax. Morey is good at this by now.

Houston will almost certainly trade Nene, whose contract the NBA rendered an impediment. Clint Capela is on the block. Full-season minimum-salary players like Gerald Green, Thabo Sefolosha, Tyson Chandler and Isaiah Hartenstein could be traded then replaced by players on partial-season minimum salary contracts.

But if trading players to lower payroll, the Rockets will burn assets before Thursday’s deadline that could have instead been used to upgrade the roster. This in a year James Harden and Russell Westbrook are still All-Stars.

If that’s Fertitta’s priority, he earned the right when buying the team. A large majority of owners won’t pay the luxury tax this season. The Rockets have been especially harmed by lost revenue from China in the aftermath of Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters (who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms).

But when Fertitta also bloviates so much about prioritizing winning, dodging the luxury tax during his team’s championship window makes him look like a blowhard.

Watch Eric Gordon’s 50-point night spark Houston win over Jazz on night Harden, Westbrook sit

Leave a comment

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Eric Gordon scored a career-high 50 points to lead the short-handed Houston Rockets to a 126-117 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night despite playing without James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Danuel House Jr. added 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Austin Rivers also had 21 points as Houston handed the Jazz their first home loss since Dec. 9.

Gordon became the first Rockets player besides Harden to score 50 points in a game since Hakeem Olajuwon had 51 in January 1996, according to STATS. Harden has done it 23 times since then.

Donovan Mitchell scored 36 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 30, but Utah lost for just the third time in 22 games despite shooting 51% from the field.

Gordon had his first game with more than 30 points this season. His previous career best of 41 came against Oklahoma City on Jan. 23, 2009. The veteran guard stepped up and filled the scoring void with Harden, Westbrook and Clint Capela sitting out.

Harden missed his second straight game with a bruised left thigh. Capela (bruised right heel) and Westbrook (rest) sat out after playing Sunday against Denver.

Their absence had minimal impact on Houston’s offense early.

Gordon bookended an 11-0 run with a dunk and a 3-pointer to give the Rockets an 11-4 lead early in the first quarter. Houston stayed in front throughout the period.

The Jazz went ahead with a 13-2 run to open the second. Mitchell scored three baskets to fuel the spurt, and Mike Conley drove for a layup to cap it off.

Gordon provided a spark to help Houston regain the lead. He totaled 15 points in the second quarter and helped the Rockets close the first half on a 17-6 run to take a 59-46 lead into the break. Thabo Sefolosha started and finished the run by driving for a layup.

Utah trimmed the deficit to 72-66 midway through the third on consecutive 3-pointers from Bogdanovic, but got no closer. Rivers and House answered with back-to-back baskets to stop the rally. That sparked a 15-6 spurt that gave Houston an 87-72 lead near the end of the quarter.