Thaddeus Young

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.

Bradley Beal scores career-high 53 points; Wizards still can’t beat Bulls

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CHICAGO — Coby White scored 33 points to join Michael Jordan as the only Bulls rookies with consecutive 30-point games, and Chicago overcame Bradley Beal‘s career-high 53 points to snap an eight-game losing streak with a 126-117 victory over the Washington Wizards on Sunday.

Beal surpassed his previous best of 51 points at Portland on Dec. 5, 2017.

Zach LaVine had 32 points for the Bulls and broke the franchise record for 3-pointers in a season.

Chicago led by 25 early in the third quarter after scoring 15 straight, and hung on after the Wizards pulled within seven in the fourth.

White matched the career high he set the previous night against Phoenix. He also became one of three rookies since 1992 with 33 or more in consecutive games, joining Allen Iverson and Trae Young.

LaVine made six 3-pointers to extend his career-high total to 177 and break Ben Gordon’s mark of 173 in 2008-09.

Thaddeus Young scored 25 while going 5 of 7 from beyond the arc, and the Bulls hit 18 of 37 on the way to their first win since they beat San Antonio on Jan. 27.

Davis Bertans scored 22 for Washington.

White wasted no time taking over, pouring in 26 points as the Bulls grabbed a 73-58 halftime lead.

He started a 15-0 run when he nailed his fifth 3-pointer with 34 seconds left before Tomas Satoransky drove for a layup to send Chicago to the locker room with a 15-point lead.

LaVine, who scored 41 in a loss at Washington on Feb. 11, started the third quarter by nailing two 3-pointers and a free throw after Beal picked up a technical. Young finished the run with a 3 to make it 83-58.

The Wizards cut it to 107-100 in the fourth quarter. It was an eight-point game when LaVine threw down back-to-back dunks to make it 119-107 with 4:13 left.

Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn may be out for season with knee injury

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Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn missed the last four games before the All-Star break with a sprained knee.

He could miss a lot more — like the rest of the season.

From K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

But sources said there’s a growing belief that Dunn will miss the remainder of the season with the injury, which occurred when Thaddeus Young took a charge and inadvertently crashed into Dunn’s knee on the first possession of a Jan. 31 road game against the Nets. When Dunn suffered a similar injury last season, he missed 23 games…

“Dunn still has some swelling in that knee,” coach Jim Boylen said before the Bulls lost to the Wizards on Feb. 11 in Washington, their final game before the break. “Once his swelling goes down, he will get re-scanned and re-evaluated.  But he had a lot of swelling.”

That’s less than ideal for Dunn as he heads into restricted free agency. He has averaged 7.3 points and  3.6 rebounds per game, however, his most significant contribution has been quality defense for Chicago this season.

This is the latest in a string of injuries for the Bulls. Otto Porter has only played nine games due to a broken foot. Big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are currently sidelined due to injuries, although Carter could return after the All-Star break and Markkanen by early next month. Now Dunn.

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks still on top of trade deadline talk edition

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We are about 24 hours away from the NBA Trade Deadline, and today’s NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings are heavy on trade talk. The Bucks and Lakers remain on top, but the Raptors are climbing fast.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (43-7, Last Week No. 1). While the Bucks are talking to teams, the sense from sources is they will stand pat at the deadline. Which makes sense. The Milwaukee Bucks remain on a 70-win pace this season, with a +11.8 net rating that compares to the Durant-Curry Warriors of a few seasons back (Cleaning the Glass projects the Bucks to “only” have 68 wins this season). Milwaukee remains the clear best team in the NBA this regular season.

Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (38-11, LW No. 2). The Lakers continue to dangle Kyle Kuzma in trade talks, but because he makes just $2 million (low in NBA terms), it becomes hard to match salaries and trade for a quality player. The Lakers will be more active on the buyout market and maybe they will land Darren Collison. Things seem to be returning to a more normal rhythm around the team following Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, but LeBron James‘ words at the first game back were worth remembering.

Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (36-14, LW 5). Winners of 12 in a row, the Raptors are poised to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers, although the most likely action is they stand pat. With all the injuries the Raptors have had to battle through — the latest is Norman Powell’s broken hand — they could use a little more depth, but finding a deal that works is not that simple. Congrats to Nick Nurse, who will coach his first All-Star Game this year.

Celtics small icon 4. Celtics (34-15, LW 6). Boston is in the market for a rim-protecting, big-bodied big man, and Daniel Theis tweaking his ankle (he is out Wednesday, maybe longer) is a reminder how thin the Celtics are up front. The challenge is, with Clint Capela off the market, there may not be a good trade option for Boston (Andre Drummond is not a good fit, and it’s too hard to construct a deal for his $27 million salary anyway). If any All-Star Game roster spots open up due to injury, Jaylen Brown should be near the top of the list of replacements.

Clippers small icon 5. Clippers (35-15, LW 4). The Clippers are looking at trying to find a more traditional big man and maybe more shooting at the trade deadline, using their 2020 pick and Moe Harkless’ salary as the bait. Maybe that’s enough to land Andre Iguodala (and keep him away from the Lakers), but in the end the Clippers may stand pat — and that’s fine. This team is still +12.1 per 100 possessions when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are on the court together, and that will happen a lot more in the playoffs.

Heat small icon 6. Heat (34-15, LW 7). Pat Riley and company are always active around the trade deadline, and they would love to find a trade that sends out Dion Waiters (and maybe James Johnson). However, mostly the Heat will keep their powder dry and look for a blockbuster move this summer that brings another star to to with Jimmy Butler. With Monday’s win over Philly, the Heat are 8-3 against the other top seven teams in the East (13-9 overall against +.500 teams).

Nuggets small icon 7. Nuggets (35-16, LW 9). Denver became the fourth team in Tuesday night’s blockbuster 12-player trade, and they did well for themselves. Denver added depth with Gerald Green, Noah Vonleh (a third center), Shabazz Napier (an overqualified third point guard), and Keita Bates-Diop, plus they get Houston’s 2020 first-round pick. While they lose Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangómez, the Nuggets could not have re-signed both next summer. Denver made a statement last week with back-to-back road wins at Utah and Milwaukee.

Pacers small icon 8. Pacers (31-19, LW 10). Indiana is expected to be quiet at the trade deadline any moves they make likely are on the fringes of the roster. Teams have called about Aaron Holiday but have been shot down. Victor Oladipo is still getting his legs back underneath him and finding his rhythm, he’s shooting just 20.5% through three games. That will improve.

Rockets small icon 9. Rockets (32-18, LW 11). The Rockets have gone all-in on small ball — they have traded away Clint Capela and got back wing shooting and defense in the form of Robert Covington. P.J. Tucker is now the starting center (Rockets fans, pray for his knees to hold up) and Jordan Bell can play a few minutes behind him as needed. James Harden is out of his slump and the small ball has worked so far in the regular season, but is this a viable playoff strategy in the West?

Jazz small icon 10. Jazz (32-17, LW 3). All is quiet on the trade front in Utah, the biggest news is that Mike Conley is back to being the starting point guard. The Jazz have dropped four in a row and the reason is the defense has been dreadful, allowing a 120 defensive rating in those games (for perspective, the Wizards 116.3 defensive rating is worst in the league for the season). With their next five games against playoff-bound teams (starting with Denver on Wednesday).

Mavericks small icon 11. Mavericks (31-19, LW 12). Dallas was around the fringes of the Robert Covington trade talks, and they have been linked to Andre Iguodala (but denied it), however don’t expect much movement from Dallas at the deadline. With Luka Doncic sidelined by a sprained ankle, Kristaps Porzingis has stepped up with 35 and 38 in his last two games. Interestingly, Dallas is 14-12 at home but a much stronger 17-7on the road.

Thunder small icon 12. Thunder (30-20, LW 13). A team that a few months back was expected to be a seller at the deadline may stand pat. Chris Paul and Steven Adams aren’t going anywhere, their big contracts have kept teams at bay. Danilo Gallinari is still part of ongoing trade talks, and that could come together before the deadline, but as of now things are quiet. The Thunder had a rough schedule in January and came out 12-5 and comfortably in the playoff mix in the West. Chris Paul will be an All-Star for the 10th time this year.

Sixers small icon 13. 76ers (31-20, LW 8). Philadelphia had been in the mix for Robert Covington, but with him headed to Houston this may be a quiet deadline in Philly. This is not necessarily a good thing — this team needs to be shaken up (and Brett Brown could be the fall guy for it after the season). The road issues for Philly have become such a thing that Ben Simmons is calling the team “soft” — and Mike Scott agreed with him. The Sixers are an NBA-best 22-2 at home, but just 9-18 on the road, and that includes losing 10-of-12.

Blazers small icon 14. Trail Blazers (23-28, LW 16). Damian Lillard‘s ridiculous hot streak — which included being the most Kobe-like player on the court the night of his tribute at the Lakers’ return to action — ended with an off-night Monday. Still, that streak has Portland just 2.5 games out of the playoffs, and they are close to getting healthy with a Jusuf Nurkic return. Don’t expect Portland to make a trade deadline move to add a player, if anything happens it will be a small move to get them below the luxury tax line. BTW, GM Neil Olshey’s name surfaces in some of the “who is next to run the Knicks” rumors.

Grizzlies small icon 15. Grizzlies (25-25, LW 14). Expect Andre Iguodala to be traded by the deadline, the only question is where? Clearly, he and his camp didn’t like some of the names that surfaced, hence the leaked “I will sit out a year” comments if he’s not sent to a team he approves. The Grizzlies should not care about that and take the best offer presented. The team’s young players want the trade to happen, Dillon Brooks said this week: “I can’t wait til we find a way to trade him so we can play him and show him really what Memphis is about.”

Nets small icon 16. Nets (22-27, LW 21). Brooklyn made its moves last summer, and while they have kicked around some trade talk — they were in some preliminary talks with Atlanta about John Collins that went nowhere — expect them to stand pat at the deadline. Kyrie Irving is out again, this time with a sprained knee, so once again it’s back to the Spencer Dinwiddie show in Brooklyn for a week or two.

Spurs small icon 17. Spurs (22-28, LW 15). San Antonio is shopping wings DeMarre Carroll and Marco Belinelli, hoping to find them new homes at the deadline (with teams that may have a bigger role for them). However, any move will be around the fringes of the rotation, not its core. The Spurs have started the annual Rodeo Road Trip 0-2 (losses to both Los Angeles Teams) and they have six more games before they return home Feb. 26.

Pelicans small icon 18. Pelicans (20-31, LW 17). While there are still teams calling about Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors, it appears the Pelicans will stand pat at the trade deadline and make a playoff push. That said, 5.5 games to make up, and four teams to leap, is a tall task. My favorite Zion Williamson play of the week his him ripping the ball out of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s hands.

Magic small icon 19. Magic (22-28, LW 20). While there are teams calling about Evan Fournier, and to a lesser degree Aaron Gordon, the Magic are currently the eight seed in the East and seem likely to keep the roster in take and aim for the postseason. The playoffs are a reasonable goal considering the Magic have the fourth easiest remaining schedule in the league. If Orlando decides to make dramatic changes to the roster it’s more likely to come this summer.

Kings small icon 20. Kings (19-31, LW 22). The Kings have fielded a lot of calls about Bogdan Bogdanovic, but have yet to find a trade that works (no, Kyle Kuzma is not an option). Bogdanovic wants a bigger role and that may not be something the Kings can offer, plus he is a free agent this summer, so he can just bolt. Sacramento also is still expected to find a trade for Dwayne Dedmon before the deadline, the big man wants out and the Kings are ready to move on, plus plenty of teams could use depth at center.

Suns small icon 21. Suns (20-30, LW 18). Phoenix remains deep in talks to acquire shooting guard Luke Kennard from the Pistons for a first-round pick, but so far the deal has not been finalized. That trade would make sense for the Suns, who need more shooting to go with Devin Booker. Speaking of Booker, yes he should have been an All-Star, and if a player is forced out due to injury he should be the guy at the front of the replacement line.

Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (19-33, LW 19). Chicago is getting calls about Thaddeus Young — the Clippers are among the teams interested — and that’s a name and a deal to watch as the deadline nears. Teams also have called about Zach LaVine but have been turned away. The injuries just keep hitting Chicago hard, with point guard Kris Dunn’s knee sprain being the latest.

Pistons small icon 23. Pistons (18-34, LW 23). At the start of the trade season Andre Drummond’s name came up a lot as a target, but sources tell NBC Sports that market is now nearly dead. Drummond brings skills, but the game is moving away from Drummond’s style and he makes $27 million (with an opt-out after this season), both of which are keeping teams away. There is a lot more interest around Derrick Rose and it’s more likely he gets traded before the deadline.

Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (17-32, LW 24). The Wizard are not going to be sellers at the deadline, teams keep calling about Davis Bertans and the message is the same: Washington isn’t trading him and they plan to re-sign the sharpshooting big man this summer. If anything, Washington could be a buyer at the deadline, with Tristan Thompson being linked to the Wizards.

Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (15-36, LW 27). Steve Mills is out as team president, but what that really means will depend on who replaces him. Will James Dolan hire an experienced executive — Masai Ujiri’s name is linked, I think Daryl Morey would be an interesting fit and may be open to a move after the season — and give that person complete autonomy to make changes to the culture? Or, will it be someone safe and more of the same? Scott Perry is running the show through the trade deadline and Marcus Morris talks are ongoing.

Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (13-38, LW 25). Atlanta was the big winner of the four-team trade — they landed a quality pick-and-roll center in Clint Capela, a guy on a reasonable contract, and they did it without giving up their first-round pick or John Collins. Speaking of Collins, it won’t happen at the deadline but expect to hear a lot of trade chatter about him this summer as Atlanta decides if he can play next to Capela, and how much they want to pay him (his rookie contract is up in the summer of 2021).

Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (16-35, LW 26). The Hornets have been talking to the Knicks about a possible Julius Randle trade, with some combination of Terry Rozier, Malik Monk and Dennis Smith Jr. going to New York, however, that may not have a lot of traction. Congrats to Devonte’ Graham, who will be competing in the three-point shooting contest All-Star weekend, he deserves a little shine considering the season he’s had.

Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (13-38, LW 28). Expect Tristan Thompson to be traded before the deadline — he wants out and there are a number of playoff teams looking for the toughness and shooting he can provide for the playoffs. There is no heat around Kevin Love talks right now, he’s more of a summer trade (if it even happens then). Collin Sexton has been putting up some decent numbers of late, even if he still pounds the ball into the ground like he’s James Harden.

Warriors small icon 29. Warriors (12-39 LW 30). While the Timberwolves made a push and there was a lot of media buzz about D'Angelo Russell being traded, that was never likely (unless Minnesota made a Godfather offer). The Warriors do want to see what Russell and Stephen Curry look like in the same backcourt (if it goes well it just raises Russell’s trade value). Plus, because of the Russell sign-and-trade, the Warriors are hard-capped, if they wait until after July 1 they can be far more creative in a trade. That’s when a deal is likely to happen.

30. Timberwolves (15-34, LW 29). Thanks to the combination of injuries and the team’s current 12-game losing streak, the last time Karl-Anthony Towns was on the court for a Timberwolves win was November 27. Minnesota made a push to get Towns a friend in D’Angelo Russell but the warriors don’t want to do that dance until next summer. The bench additions of Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangómez — both guys the team can re-sign this summer — make the four-team trade a good one for the Timberwolves. It gives them bench depth.

Kyrie Irving deals with ‘open wound’ of losing Kobe by dropping 54 on Bulls (VIDEO)

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NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving is attempting to process the death of Kobe Bryant by reflecting on the lessons his friend taught him.

He put them to good use Friday and scored a season-high 54 points, making all 10 shots in the first half and 19 of 23 for the game, to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a 133-118 victory over the Chicago Bulls.

“It’s an open wound,” Irving said. “But I think just coming out here knowing that this is a place where we connected on a deeper scale, it makes a lot of sense, what’s happening.”

Irving’s previous season high was 50 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the season-opening 127-126 loss on Oct. 23. Irving is the first player in Nets franchise history to score 45 points in three games in a single season.

Spencer Dinwiddie had 20 points off the bench and Taurean Prince chipped in with 16. Jarrett Allen and Garrett Temple contributed 12 and 11, respectively.

“A little bit was making shots,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s all about taking care of your bodies, being locked in, kind of mentally pushing through some of fatigue because everybody’s going to have it, and just keeping that focus.”

The Nets never trailed in their second straight win and third in their last four games, with Irving playing the lead role. He scored 16 points in the first quarter on 6-of-6 shooting, and by halftime he was up to 27 points. Irving capped it by scoring five points in the final 4.9 seconds, including a buzzer-beating 3 from the right side which gave the Nets a 73-57 lead.

Irving also had help as Dinwiddie had 15 and Prince added 11 in the opening 24 minutes.

“My teammates were in the right spots,” Irving said. “They were being aggressive. When they’re being aggressive like that, it makes my job a lot easier.”

One of Brooklyn’s two prized free agent signings along with Kevin Durant, Irving didn’t miss his first shot from the field until 1:24 into the third, a twisting fadeaway mid-range jumper from the left side.

Chicago, which trailed by as much as 21, fell to 19-32. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 22. Luke Kornet finished with 19. Thomas Satoransky had 15, and Thaddeus Young had 14.

Chicago lost Kris Dunn for the game with what appeared to be a knee injury on the very first possession. Bulls coach Jim Boylen said Dunn would fly to Chicago Saturday to be evaluated by team doctors.

The Bulls cut Brooklyn’s lead to 105-99 on Coby White’s 3-pointer 1:17 into the fourth but that was as close as they would get. From that point, the Nets outscored Chicago 28-19.

“I thought we battled,” Boylen said. “NBA games are spurts games. Brooklyn, that’s a spurt team and they got the final spurt.”

Irving made two free throws with 3:50 left to set his new season high as chants of “MVP! MVP!” rained down from the sellout crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center. On the next possession, he knocked down a mid-range jumper.

“It felt incredible,” Irving said. “You just want to carry that over into the next game.”