Vince Carter

Mock NBA expansion draft
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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.

Tom Brady ends career in non-Patriot uniform? NBA legends been there, done that.

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We will forever picture in our minds Tom Brady in a… Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform?

Or maybe the lightning bolt helmet of the Los Angeles Chargers, because he pulls the Kawhi Leonard and looks to elevate the little brother in the L.A. market to elite status on and off the field.

Whatever Brady chooses, NBA fans have been down this road. We have seen the greatest players in our game finish out their careers in strange uniforms. We tend to block from our memory. It’s not just a hoops thing, as Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra noted for baseball, Joe Prince-Wright did for soccer, and James O’Brein noted for hockey, legends ending their careers wearing strange uniforms is not a new nor sport-specific phenomenon.

Here are a few of the NBA legends that didn’t finish their career in the uniform you’d expect (with honorable mention to Tony Parker in Charlotte and Bob Cousy in Cincinnati, which just missed the cut).

MICHAEL JORDAN

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The NBA’s greatest and most iconic player had the greatest walk-off play to retire on ever: In Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan stripped Karl Malone in the post on one end, brought the ball up, waited until there were less than 10 seconds left, drove hard to the middle of the floor, stopped and crossed back to his left, gave Bryon Russell a little shove, rose up and drained the title-winning jumper with 5.2 seconds remaining. It was an exit fitting a legend.

Then three years later, he came back and played two seasons with the Wizards.

The ultimate competitor could not get his fix working as a team president (and pushing toward ownership, something that happened years later in Charlotte), so he laced them up again. It wasn’t the same. Jordan was still good, averaging more than 20 points a game on some bad teams, and there were flashes of him being his old self.

But, for the most part, we as fans just want to block out those years and remember Jordan stepping off the court as a champion in Chicago.

HAKEEM OLAJUWON

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The center with the best footwork the game had ever seen, the guy who brought two titles to Houston (and the guy drafted in front of Jordan where nobody thinks it was a mistake) ended his career doing the Dream Shake north of the border in Toronto. The Rockets had faded in the West since their championship years (behind a dominant Lakers team at the end) and were looking to move on, while Olajuwon still thought he had a lot to prove, so he eventually agreed to the trade. Houston got the Raptors 2002 first-round pick (Boštjan Nachbar was their pick) and second-rounder (Tito Maddox).

The Dream only played one season with the Raptors, but he was banged up, came off the bench a lot, and averaged just 7.1 points a game for a team led by the high-flying Vince Carter (then just 25). When Olajuwon retired, there was no question he would be pictured in the Hall of Fame as the greatest Rocket ever.

PATRICK EWING

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After 15 seasons in New York, leading the team to the NBA finals and dragging Jeff Van Gundy around on his leg, the Knicks icon that was Patrick Ewing was traded to the Seattle Supersonics in a four-team deal. The next summer, he signed as a free agent in Orlando and played there for one season. Father time was winning the race with Ewing those last couple of seasons, he started in Seattle and averaged 9.6 points a game, but was banged up (finger surgery) and coming off the bench in Orlando for 6 points a game. He went on to be an assistant coach for years in the NBA, never getting a shot in the big chair, so he jumped to his alma mater and is now the coach at Georgetown University.

He wasn’t the only Knicks legend shipped out at the end…

WALT “CLYDE” FRAZIER

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The best dressed Knick ever and current team color analyst was sent to Cleveland for the final two-plus years of his career (the Knicks had signed Jim Cleamons as a veteran free agent in 1977, and at the time that meant compensation had to go back to Cleveland, and Frazier was the guy). Frazier was not happy with the trade, saying being sent to Cleveland was like “being traded to Siberia.” Injuries and age were catching up with Frazier at that point, and he played in just 66 games across three seasons for the Cavaliers before he left the game, but he averaged 14.6 points a game in those contests. It was not that long before he was rhyming on the broadcasts of Knicks games and cementing himself as a legend in New York. A city that just fits him better than Cleveland.

KARL MALONE

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In 2004, Karl Malone — arguably the greatest Utah Jazz player ever, forever joined at the hip with John Stockton — came to the Shaq/Kobe Lakers to chase a ring, along with Gary Payton. At that point not even the glue of Phil Jackson could keep the dueling egos of the Lakers stars from spilling over, and the team’s role players had aged, but Malone was going to solve those problems, providing depth and a locker room presence. Malone played well that season — 13.2 points and 8.7 rebounds a game — when healthy, but he only played in 42 games that season as injuries caught up with him. Malone was exactly what those Lakers needed in the playoffs, but the injury that had him miss the NBA Finals gave Detroit the opening the Pistons needed to take the 2004 NBA crown. By the next year, Shaq was in Miami and Malone was on his ranch, retired, waiting for the call from the Hall of Fame.

Six lasting scenes from the night coronavirus overtook the NBA

NBA cancels games due to coronavirus
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The NBA became linked with the coronavirus last night, changing the league in not-yet-knowable ways. Here are six scenes that capture the shock, confusion, chaos and sadness of yesterday.

Rudy Gobert touching recorders

Jazz center Rudy Gobert – who later became the first NBA player known to test positive for coronavirus – went of his way to touch reporters’ recorders Monday.

Yesterday, video of that incident emerged.

Dave Fox of CUTV:

A Utah Department of Health spokesperson called that “low-risk exposure,” according to Ben Anderson of KSL. But – since Donovan Mitchell‘s positive test for coronavirus – Jazz teammates have complained about Gobert’s carelessness. There was clearly a pattern here with Gobert, and knowing what we do now, it’s surreal to watch.

Thunder doctor running onto court

Gobert tested positive for coronavirus shortly before the Jazz were set to play the Thunder in Oklahoma City last night. That led to Thunder lead doctor Donnie Strack running onto the court to alert officials just prior to tip-off, which you can see in the background of this video:

Thunder public-address announcer announcing postponement

Of course, Gobert’s diagnosis led to the Jazz-Thunder game being postponed. But everything was happening so quickly and amid so much uncertainty, Oklahoma City public-address announcer Mario Nanni – who’s so good as a speaker, he has literally made a living from it – was stumbling over his words in the announcement:

Definitely had a Chip Diller “Remain calm” vibe with the multiple declarations that everyone is safe.

Mark Cuban learning the NBA had suspended its season

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was watching his team play the Nuggets when the NBA suspended its season. He was DEMONSTRABLY shocked:

Girl crying in Sacramento

The NBA’s initial plan was to suspended games after yesterday’s contest finished. But Kings-Pelicans in Sacramento – which hadn’t yet tipped off – also got postponed. That left one young fan in tears:

Vince Carter embracing several Knicks, who recently played Gobert and the Jazz

With the Hawks and Knicks finishing their game after the season-suspension announcement, Vince Carter checked in for what might be the end of his NBA career. He made a 3-pointer then embraced several players on both teams:

The Knicks – who recently played Gobert and the Jazz – have since been told to self-quarantine.

I know it’s silly to be overly concerned about a few daps, considering these players just spent a full game exchanging far more contact. This might have been a meaningful moment for Carter as he nears (reached?) retirement. I want to focus on his great career.

But watching those players, I couldn’t stop thinking about the spread of coronavirus.

Which is why yesterday will go down as one of the most notable days in NBA history.

A league ostensibly about basketball has become a league about the coronavirus.

Three Things to Know: The strangest day in NBA history

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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) The strangest day in NBA history ends with NBA suspending play indefinitely. For much of Wednesday, NBA owners and the league office were debating how to keep the games on track as the spread of the novel coronavirus grew in the United States. There were discussions of playing in mostly empty arenas without fans — that’s the way most owners seemed to lean, except James Dolan and a couple of others who reportedly wanted business as usual — while discussions of moving games to new locations and even hitting the pause button on the season were thrown out there.

Then Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.

A player testing positive was always the league’s worst-case scenario. It changed everything.

At that point the league did the only thing it could: It suspended play.

“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice,” the league said in a statement. “The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”

“This isn’t about basketball…” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said later in a press conference. “This is a pandemic, a global pandemic, where people’s lives are at stake, and I’m a lot more worried about my kids, and my mom who’s 82 years old, and talking to her and telling her to stay in the house, than I am about when we play our next game.”

Now we all wait. There are a lot of questions currently without answers. We now know Donovan Mitchell tested positive, but does any other player in the league have the virus? Will play restart this season? If so, when? Will the season be pushed back into the summer? Will the season be shortened? Could the league just go straight to the playoffs in mid-April? Will fans be allowed to gather in large numbers when the league does return, or will the league play in empty arenas just to get games back up on television? How will this impact team revenues, and by extension the salary cap for next season?

All of those questions are tied to things bigger than the league, they are intertwined with the spread of the virus through the United States, which is expected to get worse before it gets better. The lack of testing from the outset — combined with bury your head in the sand leadership from some in power — has given us all an incomplete picture of how widespread the disease is in our nation. Nobody knows exactly what we are dealing with, which makes it even harder to predict what is next.

What matters most is the health of the players, fans, and everyone around the NBA. Gobert is said to be doing well, and that is to be expected — the young and healthy largely fall in the 80 percent of people who get a mild form of the disease. The goal is to stop community spread, to flatten the curve with the disease. The goal is to keep Gobert or another player from passing the virus on to a kid they took a picture with at a game, and that young boy or girl goes and sees his grandmother two days later, and suddenly the virus finds its way to someone far more vulnerable to it.

It will be, at the least, weeks before the NBA resumes play. Right now, teams that played against Gobert and the Jazz are in self-quarantine for that long.

The NBA got it right in shutting everything down.

Now comes the hard part of waiting while team owners, the league, the players union and everyone else gets involved in figuring out what happens next. This is uncharted territory.

2) Rick Carlisle reacted to the suspension news like a competitor. Dallas headed into the final few weeks of the season looking to improve their playoff positioning. As the standings look at the time of the suspension of play, Dallas would get the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. Understandably, they would like to move up a spot or two and get Denver or Houston or anyone else instead.

So what was Carlise’s reaction when he heard play would be suspended after Wednesday night?

They did — knocking off Denver behind an improbable career night from Boban Marjanovic, who had 31 points and 17 rebounds. For once, Carlisle didn’t have to worry about keeping him fresh for the next game, so he just unleashed Boban in all his glory.

As a Boban stan, I am saddened more people will not notice his big night.

3) Wednesday night may have been the end of Vince Carter‘s career, and he understands that. Vince Carter played his 22nd NBA season in Atlanta this year, mentoring young stars such as Trae Young and John Collins, and knocking down some shots.

With full knowledge that the season was going to be suspended and this could be the final game of his career, Carter entered Wednesday night’s game against the Knicks in overtime and promptly knocked down a three.

Postgame Carter spoke to the media for nearly 20 minutes, with everyone understanding this could be his farewell to the sport (if the league goes straight to the playoffs when it returns he will not play again).

Thank you, Vince Carter, for 22 seasons of bringing us the joy of the game.

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.”