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Mock NBA expansion draft: Nuggets, Timberwolves, Thunder, Trail Blazers, Jazz

Mike Conley bubble

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MARCH 06: Mike Conley #10 of the Utah Jazz brings the ball up court during the fourth quarter of the game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on March 06, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, and Pacific Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Northwest:

Denver Nuggets

Protected – 8


  • Nikola Jokic - $29,473,044
  • Jamal Murray - $28,750,000
  • Gary Harris - $19,160,714
  • Will Barton - $13,723,214
  • Jerami Grant - $9,346,153
  • Michael Porter Jr. - $3,550,800
  • Monte Morris – $1,723,707 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Torrey Craig – Restricted Free Agent

Unprotected – 2


  • Keita Bates-Diop - $1,663,861 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Vlatko Cancar - $1,517,981

Ineligible – 4


  • Troy Daniels
  • Paul Millsap
  • Mason Plumlee
  • Noah Vonleh

Analysis: Denver had maybe the easiest protections decisions in the NBA. Two rotation players (Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee) are ineligible, so the Nuggets simply protect their other rotation players.

Keita Bates-Diop is the exact type of player an expansion team should snag. He’s shown some upside in limited minutes. Vlatko Cancar has the benefit of an additional year on his contract, and will be only 23 years old at the start of next season.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Protected – 8


  • Karl-Anthony Towns - $29,467,800
  • D’Angelo Russell - $28,649,250
  • Jarrett Culver - $6,104,280
  • Jake Layman - $3,761,085
  • Josh Okogie - $2,651,040
  • Naz Reid - $1,517,981 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Malik Beasley – Restricted Free Agent
  • Juancho Hernangomez - Restricted Free Agent

Unprotected – 5


  • James Johnson - $16,047,100 (Player Option)
  • Jacob Evans - $2,017,320
  • Omari Spellman - $1,988,280
  • Jarred Vanderbilt - $1,663,861 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Jaylen Nowell - $1,517,981 (Non-Guaranteed)

Ineligible – 1


  • Evan Turner

Analysis: The Wolves are keeping guys who might be a part of the future. Most were no-brainers. The decision point was Omari Spellman v.s Juancho Hernangomez. Keeping Hernangomez doesn’t mean Minnesota will definitely re-sign him, but he has more upside than Spellman.

After Spellman, the rest are take it or leave it. Also, the Timberwolves aren’t paying either expansion team to take James Johnson off their hands.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Protected – 8


  • Chris Paul - $41,358,814
  • Steven Adams - $27,528,088
  • Dennis Schroder - $15,500,000
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - $4,141,320
  • Terrance Ferguson - $3,944,013
  • Darius Bazley - $2,399,160
  • Hamidou Diallo - $1,663,861 (Team Option)
  • Isaiah Roby - $1,517,981

Unprotected – 3


  • Mike Muscala - $2,283,034 (Player Option)
  • Abdel Nader - $1,752,950 (Team Option, then Non-Guaranteed)
  • Deonte Burton - $1,663,861 (Team Option, then $1,174,336 Guaranteed)

Ineligible – 3


  • Danilo Gallinari
  • Nerlens Noel
  • Andre Roberson

Analysis: If this was done before the season, there could have been an argument for the Thunder to expose both Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. Both have played far too well to chance that now. Steven Adams is overpaid, but not by enough to leave him unprotected. The rest of the players, led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, are young players with upside.

Abdel Nader has been a part of the rotation at times for OKC, but he’s not getting protected over a younger player. Deonte Burton and Mike Muscala were easy decisions due to their minimal roles for the Thunder.

Portland Trail Blazers

Protected – 8


  • Damian Lillard – $31,626,953
  • J. McCollum - $29,354,152
  • Jusuf Nurkic - $14,138,889
  • Zach Collins - $5,406,255
  • Anfernee Simons - $2,252,040
  • Nassir Little - $2,210,640
  • Gary Trent Jr. - $1,663,861
  • Wenyen Gabriel – Restricted Free Agent

Unprotected – 3


  • Trevor Ariza - $12,800,000 ($1,800,000 Guaranteed)
  • Rodney Hood - $6,003,900 (Player Option)
  • Mario Hezonja - $1,977,011 (Player Option)

Ineligible – 3


  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Caleb Swanigan
  • Hassan Whiteside

Analysis: Portland is keeping its key veterans and younger players. The decision point was Wenyen Gabriel vs. the three unprotected veterans. In the end, the Trail Blazers chose to protect Gabriel, who they’ll likely renounce in free agency.

As for the three veterans, they all had strong cases against protecting them. Trevor Ariza is overpaid at this point his career. Rodney Hood is coming off a torn Achilles’. And Mario Hezonja just isn’t worth protecting, even despite his minimum salary.

Utah Jazz

Protected – 8


  • Rudy Gobert - $26,525,281
  • Bojan Bogdanovic - $17,850,000
  • Joe Ingles - $10,863,637
  • Royce O’Neale - $8,500,000
  • Donovan Mitchell - $5,195,501
  • Tony Bradley - $3,542,060
  • Georges Niang - $1,783,557 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Miye Oni - $1,517,981 (Non-Guaranteed)

Unprotected – 5


  • Mike Conley - $34,502,132 (Player Option)
  • Ed Davis - $5,005,350
  • Juwan Morgan - $1,517,981 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Rayjon Tucker - $1,517,981 ($340,000 Guaranteed)
  • Nigel Williams-Goss - $1,517,981 (Non-Guaranteed)

Ineligible – 2


  • Jordan Clarkson
  • Emmanuel Mudiay

Analysis: Utah’s first seven players were easy decisions. They are all rotation players. The decision point was keeping a non-guaranteed player (ultimately chose 2019 second-round pick Miye Oni) over either Mike Conley or Ed Davis.

The Jazz are leaving Conley and Davis unprotected because neither acquisition has worked out as hoped for. If Utah can clear Conley’s salary, that would be helpful for a team that is starting to get very expensive. Davis makes less than Conley, but the fit just doesn’t work. And of the minimum players, none have found a rotation role.