The NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights made the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season of existence earlier this summer. Amazingly, many of their players were acquired from other teams in an expansion draft last year. With fans in Seattle clamoring for a new NBA franchise, it’s not hard to imagine the NBA running its own expansion draft in the near future.
With that in mind, let’s consider how the Portland Trail Blazers would handle an imaginary expansion draft this summer. Which players on the current roster would they choose to protect?
Primer on Expansion Draft Rules
For details on the expansion draft process, check out this link. To summarize the basics:
- Each existing NBA team protects eight players
- The expansion team gets to select one unprotected player from 14 teams
- Each team can only lose one player
- Unrestricted free agents are considered unaffiliated and thus do not need to be protected
- Unsigned draft picks cannot be selected so teams don't need to waste protection on talent stashed overseas. Usually an expansion draft would occur before the regular draft, so we’ll assume Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. are also protected under this rule.
- Teams get no immediate compensation for their lost player, but do get a trade exception equivalent to the drafted player’s salary
Historically, expansion franchises have chosen young players on cheap salaries. This creates a strategy game for incumbent teams; they can leave talented but older and/or expensive players unprotected in order to protect their prospects.
Who would the Blazers protect?
The big question - who would the Blazers protect in an expansion draft?
The Blazers are built around these Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic and Collins is on a rookie contract. They will all be protected under any circumstances. No further conversation needed.
Al-Farouq Aminu: Aminu plays a vital role for the Blazers’ defense and has been passable on offense. His contract is steeply discounted and he has fit in well with the team. Verdict: Protected
Seth Curry: Presumably Neil Olshey wouldn’t have signed Curry if he didn’t want to keep him. Verdict: Protected.
Meyers Leonard: Leonard’s 3-point shooting, passing, and sneaky-good defensive rebounding help the Blazers on both ends of the court...theoretically. Unfortunately he has failed to “put it all together” and has struggled to positively impact games. The Blazers are probably hoping someone takes his two-year, $21 million contract off their hands. Verdict: Not Protected
Maurice Harkless is on a long-term contract that pays him appropriately, more or less, and he played effectively last season. This one’s iffy given his contract, though, and choosing to leave Harkless unprotected would be defensible. Verdict: Protected
Evan Turner: His contract may not be Luol Deng bad, but it's still one the Blazers would love to get rid of. No amount of locker room levity can justify protecting ET, for better or worse. Verdict: Not Protected
Nik Stauskas and Jake Layman: Minimum contract players who are easily replaceable. Verdict: Not Protected
Final Two Spots
That leaves Caleb Swanigan and Wade Baldwin for the final protected spot. I would probably go with Baldwin since he showed slightly more promise than Swanigan at the end of last season. Swanigan could also replace Harkless if his rookie contract is highly appealing and the team believes he has some unseen upside. Verdict: Protect Baldwin, not Swanigan
I would protect the following:
Readers - tell us what you think in the comments. Which eight players would you protect?
Eric Griffith | @EricG_NBA