NBA Expansion Draft Part One: Western Conference

In this three-part series, myself and fellow contributor for Upside Hoops Adam Hayward will detail what an Expansion Draft could look like if the NBA were to add two more teams. 

In the first part, I put on my GM hat for all 15 Western Conference teams and decide who should stay and who should be put into the Expansion Draft. 

*Note: each team is allowed to protect eight players that are under contract for the following season.

Dallas Mavericks 

Protected Players: Luka Dončić, Dorrian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Josh Richardson (Player Option), Jalen Brunson, Dwight Powell, Josh Green, Tyrell Terry

Unprotected Players: Kristaps Porzingis, Trey Burke, Wesley Iwundu, Willie Cauley-Stein

The biggest surprise is Porzingis being left unprotected, and most Maverick fans would probably agree. Sure, you would like to have a 7’3” sharpshooter to pair with Luka, but having to pay him $100 million the next three years is a hefty price for someone whose defense has diminished after several injuries. Giving an expansion team a chance to take that salary opens up a lot for the roster to be better constructed around Dončić.

Denver Nuggets

Protected Players: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., R.J. Hampton, Bol Bol, Monte Morris, Will Barton (Player Option), Zeke Nnaji

Unprotected Players: Gary Harris, JaMychal Green, Isaiah Hartenstein

Denver would be smart to try and get an expansion team to bite at the hefty contract of Harris. This is a very young roster with just two big cap hits coming from Murray and Jokic, and with Barton being the eldest protected player by four years at just 29 years old.

Golden State Warriors

Protected Players: Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Eric Paschall, James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole

Unprotected Players: Damion Lee, Kevon Looney

The toughest decision came with bringing back Wiggins or not. While the cap hit is pretty hefty, the Warriors are already hamstrung with their big three all on max deals, so roster construction would be tough even with Wiggins gone. His defensive improvement and chance at being a third option in the offense when Klay comes back makes it a much better fit for Golden State.

Houston Rockets

Protected Players: Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr., Danuel House, Rodions Kurucs, Jae’Sean Tate

Unprotected Players: John Wall, Eric Gordon

Thankfully for the Rockets they have a lot of money coming off the books in the next couple of years with a stockpile of draft picks after the Harden trade. Unfortunately though, even with Wall and Gordon being unprotected, it’s hard to imagine a team taking a chance on either because of their gaudy cap hits the next three years, so they probably find themselves back in Houston, regardless.

Los Angeles Clippers

Protected Players: Paul George, Kawhi Leonard (Player Option), Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac, Terrance Mann

Unprotected Players: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Beverley 

Ibaka more than likely picks up his option and even though is unprotected will find himself back in LA. Beverley, though may not. With just one year left on his current deal, an expansion team may take a stab at Beverley to not only give their team a strong defensive point guard, but also have someone who they could flip for assets at the deadline.

Los Angeles Lakers

Protected Players: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell (Player Option), Marc Gasol

Unprotected Players: None

The Lakers roster is interesting, as the only five players under contract for next season are basically locks to stay under this format. The only player who would be a questionable protection player would be Gasol, but only being owed just over two million dollars next year, his experience is enough to keep him around. 

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected Players: Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson, Branden Clarke, Dillon Brooks, De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, Tyus Jones

Unprotected Players: Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jontay Porter, John Konchar, Grayson Allen

There will be some tough decisions to make for the Grizzlies. Seven of the eight names listed above should be no brainers, but Jones is the only one on the bubble. Jones probably has the edge over Allen though to keep the bench together and equipped with a good backup for Morant. 

Minnesota Timberwolves

Protected Players: Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Malik Beasley, Jarrett Culver, Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid, Josh Okogie

Unprotected Players: Ricky Rubio, Juan Hernangomez, Jake Layman, Jaylen Nowell

Rubio is in the same boat as the veterans on the Grizzlies as he’s on a roster full of young talent who are too early to move on from. Reid might be the only one who could get swapped out, but his improvement from year one to year two probably gives him the nod as a 21-year-old. 

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected Players: Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Kira Lewis, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jaxson Hayes, Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, Wenyen Gabriel

Unprotected Players: None

The Pelicans could decide to dangle either Adams or Bledsoe for an expansion team, but Adams’ extension probably keeps him around at least another year and Bledsoe could be a trade option in the future. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

Protected Players: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby, Theo Maledon, Ty Jerome, Kenrich Williams

Unprotected Players: Al Horford

Horford is the only player under contract that the Thunder decides not to protect, but odds are he comes back. The contract that Horford has left is not one a team is just going to want to take on for nothing, but this at least gives the Thunder an opportunity to get off of the deal.

Phoenix Suns

Protected Players: Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Jalen Smith, Chris Paul, Jevon Carter, Dario Saric

Unprotected Players: Jae Crowder

It came down to Saric and Crowder for that final spot, but the age and fit with the roster gave Saric the edge. Crowder has been a very good acquisition, but with the improved defense of Johnson and already stellar defensive play of Bridges, they should be able to in the following years make up for losing Crowder on the defensive end. 

Portland Trail Blazers

Protected Players: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, Anfernee Simons, Robert Covington, Rodney Hood

Unprotected Players: Derrick Jones Jr., CJ Elleby

Jones Jr. may be a selfish pick on my end because frankly I don’t know where he fits. Outside of his thunderous dunking and length in a zone defense, I’m not sure his $10 million salary is worth protecting him. Covington could also be put in the unprotected spot, but his 3 and D ability is something that is coveted nowadays. 

Sacramento Kings

Protected Players: De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Marvin Bagley III, Buddy Hield, Jahmi’us Ramsey, Robert Woodard, Cory Joseph

Unprotected Players: None

The Kings are the third team not to protect all of its players, but they still have a couple they could change their mind on. Hield has expressed his issues with being in Sacramento even after his contract extension, and that could lead him to the Expansion draft. It seems tough though to put that kind of shooter out there to be taken away for nothing. 

San Antonio Spurs

Protected Players: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Tre Jones, Devin Vassell, Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson, Luka Saminac, Jakob Poeltl

Unprotected Players: None

Unless the Spurs regret giving contracts to Murray and White, this is a simple decision for San Antonio. The Spurs have a talented group of fairly young players at several positions, so breaking that group up doesn’t seem like the best path to take.

Utah Jazz

Protected Players: Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, Derrick Favors, Udoka Azubuike

Unprotected Players: Miye Oni, Elijah Hughes

The tough spot the Jazz are in is the fact they have so much money tied up into their current roster, that letting any of the key pieces go doesn’t even allow them to make a move to better the roster.

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