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NBA Expansion Mock Draft: What would a new expansion team look like?

NBA Expansion Mock Draft: What would a new expansion team look like?

Expansion in the NBA is on the horizon, even though it’s a subject that has been put on the back burner as of late. In three years, the Association will be entering a new media-rights deal that is expected to blow their current figures out of the water and cause the salary cap to increase significantly. Could that be the perfect time to add an expansion team or two?

When asked about the possibility of expanding the league last season, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver insisted that it isn't currently on the table.

“Maybe there are people talking who are not at the league office about us potentially expanding after the 2024 season, [but] we are not discussing that at this time,” Silver said this past season. “As I said before, at some point this league will invariably expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it. We’ll be looking at it at some point, but there’s no specific timeline right now.”

We're entering a new golden age of basketball, where talented players can be found all around the world and teenage prospects have more options than ever before. The NBA can afford to add an expansion team in the near future, and they may even be able to increase the league to 32 teams (like the NFL). There are enough talented players to fill out these rosters. 

Which cities make the most sense for an NBA expansion team? Two cities immediately come to mind: Las Vegas and Seattle. These cities have been rumored for years and are the obvious choices.

Last month at NBA Summer League, Silver told Mick Akers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the city could accommodate a team. Silver also alluded to how much revenue Summer League brings into Vegas, bringng in similar numbers as All-Star Weekend.

“All of our events, when we’re thinking about going to so-called neutral markets, Las Vegas is always in a top group of cities we can consider,” Silver told Akers. “You have incredible hotels, entertainment outside of basketball and great facilities. Without being specific as to the events, we’re always thinking of Vegas as a possible destination.”

Silver has said that Las Vegas "has shown itself to be a great sports market" and that when the league seriously explores expansion, there is "no doubt Vegas will be on the list." 

Las Vegas continues to explode, as many people are moving there as full-time residents. Their sports teams have been surging too. The Las Vegas Raiders successfully moved from Oakland to historic fanfare, and the Vegas Golden Knights have had immense success in the market as well. Now, the Oakland A’s are considering a move to Sin City too. 

Nevada governor Steve Sisolak believes that landing an NBA team within the next five years is a real possibility. Earlier this offseason, LeBron James let it be known on "The Shop" that his goal is to own a team and bring it to Vegas.

"I wanna buy a team, for sure. I want a team in Vegas," James said in June.

In addition to Las Vegas, Seattle continues to be at the forefront of any potential expansion talks. We all know about the Seattle SuperSonics' history, and the fact that the Sonics were ripped away from the city is still disappointing to this day. Now, there’s a ton of excitement around the NHL's Seattle Kraken and the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, and Climate Pledge Arena is ready to host an NBA team.

Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, recently talked about how his hometown is craving an NBA team on “All The Smoke” with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes. 

“I think it needs to happen, I think it should be mandatory. Not just because I’m biased, but because it’d be a great look on the NBA,” Banchero said. “It’s a great city, the fans there are crazy. If you get a team in Seattle, they’ll automatically be a top… not the top, but a top fanbase. Those games would be sold out right away.”

It's very possible that NBA expansion could become a hot-button topic in the near future.

How exactly does the NBA's expansion process work? Well, we have a somewhat recent example to look back on, as the Charlotte Bobcats were added to the league as an expansion team 18 years ago.

The most-recent NBA Expansion Draft took place on June 22, 2004, and the Bobcats selected 19 players to construct a roster for their inaugural season. Here were the main rules in place:

  • Teams were allowed to protect eight players that the Bobcats couldn't select.
  • Only one unprotected player was allowed to be picked from each team.
  • Teams must have at least one unprotected player, even if they don’t have eight players under contract.
  • Restricted free agents drafted by the Bobcats would become unrestricted free agents who could sign with Charlotte or any other team.
  • The Bobcats had to draft at least 14 players (and they could select as many as 29).
  • They weren't bound by the salary cap, but the contracts count toward their cap after the draft.
  • The Bobcats' salary cap was only two-thirds of the league's salary cap (ex: expansion team can only spend upwards of $81,609,000 on roster within current cap climate).
  • Players who were drafted couldn't be reacquired by their former team for one year.

Charlotte landed a future All-Star in their expansion draft, selecting Gerald Wallace after the Sacramento Kings failed to protect him. 

If a similar draft happened now, which players would go unprotected? What kind of squad could be built via a present-day expansion draft? Let's find out!

This experiment will help determine whether there's enough talent to fill out an extra NBA roster. Each team will protect eight players from being selected. Here are the players we've protected:

Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Clint Capela, Onyeka Okongwu, Jalen Johnson

Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Derrick White, Robert Williams, Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams, Al Horford

Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry, Royce O’Neale, Cam Thomas, Ben Simmons, Nic Claxton, Day’Ron Sharpe

Charlotte Hornets: LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, James Bouknight, PJ Washington, Terry Rozier, Mark Williams, Cody Martin, Kelly Oubre Jr.

Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Ayo Dosunmu, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Dalen Terry, Patrick Williams, Nikola Vucevic

Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkannen, Isaac Okoro, Ochai Agbaji

Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, Josh Green, Maxi Kleber, Christian Wood, Jaden Hardy

Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Bones Hyland, Aaron Gordon, Bruce Brown, Christian Braun, Peyton Watson

Detroit Pistons: Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Saddiq Bey, Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley III, Killian Hayes, Hamidou Diallo

Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Jordan Poole, James Wiseman, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, Andrew Wiggins

Houston Rockets: Jabari Smith, Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Sengun, Tari Eason, Jae’Sean Tate, TyTy Washington, Josh Christopher

Indiana Pacers: Tyrese Haliburton, Bennedict Mathurin, Chris Duarte, Isaiah Jackson, Jalen Smith, Andrew Nembhard, Oshae Brissett, Myles Turner

Los Angeles Clippers: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, Ivica Zubac, Luke Kennard, Robert Covington, Amir Coffey

Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Lonnie Walker IV, Austin Reaves, Max Christie, Talen Horton-Tucker, Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr.

Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, Tyus Jones, Ziaire Williams, Jake LaRavia

Miami Heat: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Nikola Jovic, Max Strus, Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent, Victor Oladipo

Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, MarJon Beauchamp, Jordan Nwora, Grayson Allen

Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert, Jaden McDaniels, D’Angelo Russell, Jaylen Nowell, Wendell Moore, Kyle Anderson

New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado

New York Knicks: RJ Barrett, Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, Quentin Grimes, Isaiah Hartenstein, Immanuel Quickley, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin

Oklahoma City Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Chet Holmgren, Luguentz Dort, Jalen Williams, Ousmane Dieng, Tre Mann, Kenrich Williams

Orlando Magic: Paolo Banchero, Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., Jalen Suggs, Mo Bamba, Caleb Houstan, Markelle Fultz

Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, PJ Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris

Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, Cameron Johnson, Jae Crowder, Landry Shamet, Dario Saric

Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, Josh Hart, Nassir Little, Shaedon Sharpe, Gary Payton II, Jusuf Nurkic

Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Keegan Murray, Davion Mitchell, Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, Harrison Barnes, Chimezie Metu

San Antonio Spurs: Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Josh Primo, Malaki Branham, Jeremy Sochan, Blake Wesley, Tre Jones, Jakob Poeltl

Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr., Precious Achiuwa, Christian Koloko

Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Walker Kessler, Leandro Bolmaro, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Jared Butler, Simone Fontecchio

Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, Deni Avdija, Johnny Davis, Daniel Gafford, Corey Kispert, Kyle Kuzma, Rui Hachimura

That's 240 total players who were protected across the 30 NBA teams.

Which players were left unprotected? Here's the talent pool that the expansion team will be able to choose from:

Atlanta Hawks: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Aaron Holiday, Justin Holiday, Maurice Harkless, Frank Kaminsky, Lou Williams

Boston Celtics: JD Davison, Danilo Gallinari, Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard, Noah Vonleh

Brooklyn Nets: Joe Harris, Patty Mills, Edmond Sumner, T.J. Warren

Charlotte Hornets: Gordon Hayward, Kai Jones, Cody Martin, Bryce McGowens, Mason Plumlee, Nick Richards, JT Thor

Chicago Bulls: Tony Bradley, Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr., Coby White

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love, Moses Brown, Cedi Osman, Ricky Rubio, Lamar Stevens, Dean Wade, Dylan Windler

Dallas Mavericks: Davis Bertans, Tim Hardaway Jr., JaVale McGee, Frank Ntilikina, Theo Pinson, Dwight Powell

Denver Nuggets: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Facundo Campazzo, Jeff Green, Zeke Nnaji, Ish Smith, Davon Reed

Detroit Pistons: Alec Burks, Luka Garza, Cory Joseph, Frank Jackson, Isaiah Livers, Nerlens Noel, Kelly Olynyk, Kemba Walker

Golden State Warriors: Patrick Baldwin Jr., Donte DiVincenzo, Kevon Looney, Ryan Rollins

Houston Rockets: Usman Garuba, Eric Gordon, Boban Marjanovic, Kenyon Martin Jr., Garrison Mathews, Daishen Nix

Indiana Pacers: Aaron Nesmith, Buddy Hield, Goga Bitadze, Kendall Brown, Terry Taylor, Daniel Theis

Los Angeles Clippers: Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris Sr., Norman Powell, John Wall, Ivica Zubac

Los Angeles Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Wenyen Gabriel, Stanley Johnson, Damian Jones, Kendrick Nunn, Juan Toscano-Anderson

Memphis Grizzlies: Steven Adams, Santi Aldama, Kennedy Chandler, Danny Green, John Konchar, David Roddy, Killian Tillie, Xavier Tillman

Miami Heat: Dewayne Dedmon, Haywood Highsmith, Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, Omer Yurtseven

Milwaukee Bucks: Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Jevon Carter, George Hill, Brook Lopez, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Wesley Matthews

Minnesota Timberwolves: Bryn Forbes, Jordan McLaughlin, Josh Minott, Eric Paschall, Taurean Prince, Naz Reid, Austin Rivers

New Orleans Pelicans: Devonte’ Graham, Jaxson Hayes, Kira Lewis Jr., Naji Marshall, EJ Liddell, Larry Nance Jr.

New York Knicks: Evan Fournier, Trevor Keels, Miles McBride, Derrick Rose, Cam Reddish

Oklahoma City Thunder: Darius Bazley, Derrick Favors, Ty Jerome, Mike Muscala, Aleksej Pokusevski, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Aaron Wiggins, Jaylin Williams

Orlando Magic: Bol Bol, R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris, Jonathan Isaac, Chuma Okeke, Terence Ross, Moritz Wagner

Philadelphia 76ers: Tobias Harris, Georges Niang, Charles Bassey, Isaiah Joe, Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton, Jaden Springer, Paul Reed

Phoenix Suns: Torrey Craig, Jock Landale, Damion Lee, Josh Okogie, Cameron Payne, Ish Wainright, Duane Washington Jr.

Portland Trail Blazers: Greg Brown, CJ Elleby, Drew Eubanks, Keon Johnson, Ismael Kamagate, Gary Payton II, Jabari Walker

Sacramento Kings: Terence Davis, Richaun Holmes, Alex Len, Trey Lyles, KZ Okpala, Neemias Queta

San Antonio Spurs: Keita Bates-Diop, Zach Collins, Gorgui Dieng, Romeo Langford, Doug McDermott, Josh Richardson, Isaiah Roby, Joe Wieskamp, Robert Woodard II

Toronto Raptors: Dalano Banton, Khem Birch, Armoni Brooks, Otto Porter Jr., Malachi Flynn, Juan Hernangomez, Svi Mykhailiuk, Thaddeus Young

Utah Jazz: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Udoka Azubuike, Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Johnny Juzang

Washington Wizards: Will Barton, Vernon Carey, Taj Gibson, Monte Morris, Delon Wright, Isaiah Todd

Using the same rules and cap restrictions that the Bobcats had to follow, what is the best hypothetical expansion team that we can build (with the restricted salary cap and long-term outlook in mind)?

Expansion Draft Picks (sorted by projected depth chart):

Point Guard: Ricky Rubio, Monte Morris, Payton Pritchard

Seeing how Rubio has impacted teams in recent years — most recently with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns — he was a must-have in the expansion draft. Rubio's calming presence and overall playmaking chops make him a perfect piece for the starting unit. Meanwhile, Morris and Pritchard provide some nice depth. Hopefully, Pritchard takes the baton from Rubio and Morris as our long-term answer down the road.

Shooting Guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Caleb Martin, Garrison Mathews

KCP has proven to be a very versatile wing over the years, so it made sense to add him out of all the intriguing veteran options. In addition to spacing the floor, Caldwell-Pope will draw the toughest defensive assignment each game. Snagging Martin away from Miami was a huge win as well, because he checks nearly identical boxes to KCP. Rounding out the position, the expansion squad needs a bonafide perimeter threat, so why not add a cheap one in Mathews? We're betting that he'll pick up right where he left off after his resurgent campaign in Houston, especially if given ample minutes within our rotation.

Small Forward: T.J. Warren, Otto Porter Jr., Cam Reddish

Will Warren return to Orlando Bubble form upon his arrival? Doubtful, especially with consecutive stress fractures causing him to play four total games over the last two seasons. However, if Warren checks out medically, there's no denying that he can score the basketball. He'd have the green light to shoot in our offense, so don't be stunned if Warren becomes the team's No. 1 option immediately. Porter is an ideal veteran wing to place upon any roster, as he showed last year with the Golden State Warriors. Porter is valuable insurance with Warren's checkered injury history. And why not roll the dice on Reddish? His NBA transition has been anything but smooth, but if the 22-year-old fits within the system, this could pay huge dividends down the road.

Power Forward: Darius Bazley, Javonte Green, Isaiah Livers

After developing with the Oklahoma City Thunder over the last few years, Bazley is one of our top selections in the expansion draft. Not only does Bazley have the necessary upside that we covet long-term, the 22-year-old fits well within our short-term plan as well. Immediately, Bazley will enter as a starter on the wing and he'll have an opportunity to show what he's got. Behind him, I love the addition of Green as a tough two-way presence who continues to fly under the radar in Chicago. Livers is another young addition who adds depth and two-way potential. (If you haven't already, check out Spencer Davies' excellent feature on Livers from last week).

Center: Kevon Looney, Larry Nance Jr., Naz Reid

Closing out the roster, we couldn't be happier with our committee approach. Looney and Nance instantly become key pillars to our expansion team and really blend together well for lineup purposes. Who knows, maybe we even see some minutes where this duo shares the court when opposing teams go big. Outside of our strong center duo, we needed to add one more player who brings a different overall flavor. Reid accomplishes exactly that with his blend of offensive talents that can be utilized extremely well within small-ball situations.

Conclusion

After looking at this roster, we'll let you be the judge: does the NBA have enough talent to add an additional franchise (or two)? What would your expansion team look like?

Perhaps the NBA could tweak their previous expansion-draft rules just a bit (especially if the league adds two expansion teams). For example, what if each team could only protect six players instead eight? The hypothetical expansion roster would be even better and might actually make a push for the play-in tournament, if everything fell perfectly into place.

Right now, expansion isn't on the forefront of NBA decision-makers' minds. With that said, it seems like a lock to happen at some point in the future, and it's something to monitor in the coming years.

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