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Who would the Trail Blazers protect in an Expansion Draft?

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The NHL conducted an expansion draft two years ago for their new team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. If the NBA added another team, which eight players would the Trail Blazers protect?

Portland Trailblazers vs. Seattle Supersonics Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images

The Super Sonics may not be coming back to the NBA any time soon, but Seattle has been granted an NHL franchise. In two years the league will have an expansion draft to populate the new team’s roster. The NHL already had an expansion draft two years ago for the Vegas Golden Knights and that team (miraculously?) reached the Stanley Cup Finals in its first year in existence.

With that in mind, let’s consider how the Portland Trail Blazers would handle an imaginary expansion draft. 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 Nassir Little is 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?

Untouchable Core

Damian Lillard

CJ McCollum

Jusuf Nurkic

Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic are obvious. Those three players form the core of a roster that won 53 games last year and Olshey has shown no inclination to trade any of them. Nurkic and Lillard are playing on new contracts, reinforcing the Blazers obvious desire to keep them. Olshey would never dream of risking any of them.

Up and Coming Core (Hopefully)

Zach Collins

Anfernee Simons

Rumors abound that Olshey has refused to include Collins or Simons in trades and the Blazers have made it very clear they consider both players building blocks for the future. They are also on rookie contracts. Simons and Collins aren’t going anywhere.

Other Players

That leaves the Blazers with eight more players and only three more protectable spots. Here are the, in my opinion, easier choices:

Rodney Hood: Hood is playing on a reasonable contract and has proven himself a valuable role player for the Blazers. He’s also only 26 years old. There’s a definite risk an expansion franchise would go after him. Verdict: Protected

Hassan Whiteside: The Blazers are trying to win now and desperately need a starting center while Nurkic recovers from injury. Whiteside’s contract is unseemly, but given that the NBA has a salary floor it’s possible an expansion franchise would go after him as a recognizable name to sell tickets. Portland can’t afford to take that risk. Verdict: Protected

The Final Spot

That narrows it down to one spot for six players.

Skal Labissiere, Anthony Tolliver, Pau Gasol: These are three minimum salary players that could be easily replaced. It’d be mildly annoying to lose Tolliver, and a new franchise may want his veteran leadership, but Neil Olshey would probably be willing to gamble that expansion teams would prioritize younger players. Verdict: Unprotected

Kent Bazemore: Unlike Whiteside, Bazemore has little name recognition value. Like Whiteside, he has a massive contract. Since expiring deals will mean little to an expansion team the Blazers can safely leave Bazemore unprotected. Verdict: Unprotected

The Final Spot

Mario Hezonja, Gary Trent Jr.: This is a tough one. Both players are on minimum salary deals and are young enough to have upside. It’s basically impossible to make an informed decision without more information on how Trent is developing in practice.

Looking at the contracts we can see, however, that Olshey was willing to give Hezonja a player option year — something Seth Curry and the Blazers couldn’t agree on. That makes me think Olshey sees upside in Hezonja and pushes me toward protecting Hezonja and crossing fingers that the imaginary Seattle team passes on an unproven second round draft pick. Verdict: Protect Hezonja, not Trent.

Conclusion

Protected:

  1. Lillard
  2. McCollum
  3. Collins
  4. Nurkic
  5. Simons
  6. Hood
  7. Whiteside
  8. Hezonja

Unprotected:

  1. Tolliver
  2. Gasol
  3. Labissiere
  4. Bazemore
  5. Trent Jr.

Poll

Which player would you choose for the eighth and final protection?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Hezonja
    (259 votes)
  • 30%
    Trent Jr.
    (420 votes)
  • 11%
    Labissiere
    (158 votes)
  • 1%
    Tolliver
    (18 votes)
  • 4%
    Gasol
    (57 votes)
  • 31%
    Bazemore
    (434 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (explain in comments)
    (13 votes)
1359 votes total Vote Now

Readers - tell us what you think in the comments. Which eight players would you protect?


Eric Griffith | @EricG_NBA