NBA expansion has been a hot topic from time immemorial, or at least since the Seattle Supersonics headed south to become the Oklahoma City Thunder. Though no immediate plans are in play, adding teams to the league is less a matter of “if” than “when”.
With that in mind, SBNation’s NBA sites are engaging in a thought experiment today. Our very-much-active Seattle site, SonicsRising.com is taking a break from polling politicians and plotting prospective arena locations to engage in a Mock Expansion Draft. The other 30 SBNation NBA communities are posting lists of protected players (8 allowed) and unprotected players available for the Sonics to draft. Seattle cannot claim more than one player from the same team. As the day progresses, we’ll see who their brain trust selects.
Blazer’s Edge editor Chris Lucia selected Portland’s protected players in consultation with the rest of the staff. For the most part the choices were clear, though we did have some behind-the-scenes debate. Here’s the list, along with explanations justifying the unprotected selections.
Turner is the most accomplished player in the unprotected group. He’s also making $17 million per year. Losing him to the Sonics would make the Blazers poorer on the floor but it’d also take the sting out of extending Nurkic.
Davis didn’t play much for the Blazers last year due to injury. His lane-based game isn’t as critical for Portland anymore with Nurkic in tow. He’s only owed $6 million on an expiring contract but erasing that salary from the books would put the Blazers under the luxury tax threshold so there’s value in moving him.
Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton, and Jake Layman
All three players fly under the radar. Each has promise, none are that attractive. It’s unlikely the Sonics would reach for any of them; leaving them unprotected is a low-risk move. They’re also Portland’s 12th-14th men, so losing one wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Poor Meyers. You knew he was going to be here. The choice for the last protected spot fell between him and Noah Vonleh. Leonard has better stats and might end up with a longer career, but he also makes more than Vonleh and he’s not that much more valuable to Portland at this point.
Chris Lucia’s Thoughts
Chris’ thoughts on the process...
Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has made this exercise pretty easy. There were several no-brainers on this list—Dame, CJ and Nurk get protected without any second thought. On the flipside, the Blazers' front office—from a salary cap perspective—would probably be ecstatic if another team took either of Evan Turner's or Meyers Leonard's respective contracts off their hands. Consider that Olshey just matched Allen Crabbe's massive restricted free agent deal with the Nets last summer, then turned around and traded him for basically nothing (apologies Andrew Nicholson) in an obvious book-clearing move.
Then you consider that the Blazers just invested two picks into Zach Collins, easily slotting him in as protected. Add Caleb Swanigan to that mix—definitely want to protect those rooks in an expansion draft. Aminu is the team's best defender, so he should be kept. Now we get to Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton—it's been nice, but as end-of-rotation guys at best, they lack the clear upside to protect, plus Connaughton can fall back on the MLB as soon as his NBA career is over.
From a talent perspective, it makes sense to keep Harkless. He also has a reasonable amount of trade value, I would assume, based on his salary and production. So it was between Noah Vonleh, Jake Layman and Ed Davis for that final spot. As a guy who's a little older and has definitely reach his ceiling as a player, and also is on an expiring deal—who also lost his spot in the rotation last year, largely due to injury—Ed Davis is out. That last decision between Vonleh and Layman is hard, but the Noah has shown for brief stretches that he can potentially start alongside Nurk in the frontcourt and be useful on either end of the floor. Layman has some great athleticism, but he hasn't done much against NBA-level competition. Plus, if you compare the opportunity costs—Vonleh is the only remaining asset in Portland acquired in the 2015 Nic Batum trade, while Olshey sunk only a second-rounder and some cash to get Layman—it'd be tough to see Vonleh, still on his affordable rookie deal, leave with no return for the Blazers.
How’d we do? Feel free to comment on (or correct) the list in the comment section!