In this three-part series, fellow Upside Hoops contributor Noah Genson and I will detail what an Expansion Draft could look like if the NBA were to add two more teams. This part will focus on the protected/unprotected players of the Eastern Conference.
*Note: each team is allowed to protect eight players that are under contract for the following season.
The Hawks have some pretty easy choices to make, as they’re able to retain much of their promising young talent and key role players. There is a good chance that Kris Dunn declines his player option, which would make Atlanta’s decision even easier.
Boston gets to keep their main core intact, as well as a few of their young depth pieces. The unprotected players – Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, and Carsen Edwards – could potentially serve as solid bench players on an expansion team.
Unprotected Players: Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Nicholas Claxton, Norvelle Pelle
The Nets roster is admittedly pretty thin compared to other NBA teams, and Brooklyn needs all the depth that they can get. So they keep their superstar players and key role players, while Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Nicholas Claxton and Norvell Pelle go unprotected.
Gordon Hayward is kept in Charlotte, as the Hornets’ intruging young core is keep intact as well. Jalen McDaniels and the Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, are the only players from Charlotte’s young core to go unprotected.
Unprotected Players: Daniel Gafford
Arturas Karnisovas keeps Chicago’s young core intact, while also keeping around two veteran players in Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky. Plenty of players come off the books for Chicago in free agency, giving the Bulls some more cap space to work with.
With the expansion draft, the Cavaliers could free themselves from Kevin Love’s contract. Love is owed $30 million per year over the next two seasons, and with Love off the books, Cleveland could have more cap space to keep on constructing their roster.
Due to Blake Griffin having a player option, the Pistons are unable to free themselves from the veteran power forward’s albatross contract. That unfortunately means they would have to part with some of their young core. Detroit would have to give up Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and their first-round draft pick Killain Hayes, who might be replaced by a new point guard in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Not much for Indiana to worry here. In the event they have to choose between the Holiday brothers, Justin and Aaron, Indiana might elect to keep Justin around what with him being a bigger contributing factor to the team.
Unprotected Players: KZ Okpala
Miami is in an interesting spot, as many of the players on their roster are impending free agents. With the final choice coming down between Chris Silva and KZ Okpala, the Heat may decide to keep Okpala around.
Protected Players: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday (Player Option), Khris Middleton, Donte DiVicenzo, Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis (Player Option), Bryn Forbes (Player Option), Thanasis Antetokounmpo
Obviously, Milwaukee wouldn’t let Thanasis Antetokounmpo leave his superstar brother Giannis, so they add him to their list of protected players. Due to Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes both having player options, the Bucks have to sacrifice their two of their bench pieces in Pat Connaughton and D.J. Augustin.
Unprotected Players: Kevin Knox
With many of their players set to hit free agency, the Knicks elect to have six of their players go protected. New York would be more than happy to part with Kevin Knox, who has had a pretty uninspiring NBA career so far.
Orlando finds themselves in a pretty difficult position, as they have a few key pieces and young talent that they cannot afford to lose. Losing Jonathan Isaac might sting, but the lanky small forward can’t be trusted to stay healthy. Same can be said for Al-Farooq Aminu, who has only played just eighteen games for the Magic.
Unprotected Players: None
The 76ers don’t find themselves in much of a pickle, as they’re able to keep their young core intact. This is a great young team with room for potential and growth, giving Daryl Morey no reason to shake things up with the core already in place.
With Kyle Lowry set to hit free agency in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, the Raptors look to keep as much of their young talent as they can.
Unprotected Players: Garrison Matthews
The Wizards could choose to leave Russell Westbrook unprotected, mostly due to his monster contract. Even with rumors about the Wizards playing better without Westbrook in the lineup,Westbrook’s inspiring play as of late might prompt Washington to keep the superstar point guard around.