NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last month that eventual expansion is inevitable.
With expansions come expansion drafts. As part of our off-season coverage here at SB Nation, each team site is stepping into the shoes of their team’s front office to consider the decisions around an expansion draft.
Here’s the basic idea: each team gets to protect 8 players, and everyone else is up for grabs. So, I picked 8 Clippers to protect, as did 29 other writers for each of the 29 other NBA Teams, and then the good people of Sonics Rising and the SBNation NBA national site will go over the unprotected players and take a look at what potential expansion rosters could look like.
Here are the eight players I chose to protect for the Clippers:
- Blake Griffin
- DeAndre Jordan
- Danilo Gallinari
- Patrick Beverley
In my opinion, these are probably the four best players on the Clippers’ roster. Beverley is a solid step behind the other three, but I rate him higher than any of the Clippers’ other role players and his super team-friendly contract makes him a must-keep asset.
Crucial Role Players:
- Milos Teodosic
- Austin Rivers
I don’t think either of these guys are automatic top-8 choices in a vacuum, but it’s pretty hard to pick 8 Clippers without taking these two. If the Clippers’ best three players make up their starting frontcourt, it makes sense that Beverley, Teodosic, and Rivers are the fourth, fifth, and sixth most important players on the roster. They’ll probably be 4th-6th in minutes played this year, and both seem to be a part of the team’s plans beyond the 2017-18 season. Additionally, Rivers being 25 years old makes him the kind of player you’d like to hold on to.
- Sam Dekker
- Montrezl Harrell
These last two spots are the most debatable. Lou Williams is a viable option here, but I didn’t value him as a fourth combo guard over securing some frontcourt depth. Willie Reed is also probably better right now than either, but both players’ long-term statuses with the team are murkier than Dekker and Harrell. The other prospect options are Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell, and Brice Johnson—I went with the two that have had success as NBA role players. At 23 years old each, and with team-friendly contracts and long-term control, I wanted to make sure that the Clippers held on to these newly-acquired prospects.
The Unprotected Players:
- Lou Williams
I really think that Lou is the most likely Clipper to be picked in an expansion draft. He’s got utility in a new team’s offense, which will struggle in their first season, and he’s on an expiring contract that leaves them open to building in free agency down the line. It would be a real drag to lose him, as he has real value to the Clippers this season both on the court and in a potential trade, but I ultimately left him off for two reasons: 1) he’s the fourth-most important guard, and I wanted more frontcourt help, and 2) he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer, but the Clippers have more control over Dekker and Harrell. Guards like George Hill, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tyler Johnson are going to be bigger names for the starting spots, but Williams’ contract is a sensible fit for a backup role.
- Willie Reed
Reed is another guy who would be a real candidate to be picked in the later rounds of an expansion draft—a solid backup center on a one-year minimum deal that doesn’t impair long-term flexibility. There are some other names at center, but no responsible front office is taking on deals like Timofey Mozgov, Miles Plumlee, Pau Gasol, or Bismack Biyombo when Reed is there for $1.5 million. Reed could even end up as a starter for the new team if his legal troubles amount to nothing. He’s better right now than Montrezl Harrell, but here’s where I made my decision: next summer, Willie will be a 28-year-old unrestricted free agent and the Clippers won’t have his bird rights. Harrell, on the other hand, will be a 24-year-old restricted free agent with full bird rights.
- Wesley Johnson
Please take his contract.
- Brice Johnson
I think Brice’s injury last season really helps the Clippers here. If he had been healthy and performed well when he got opportunities, he might have a little value. As it is, he’s just a 23-year-old former 25th overall pick who has never shown anything in the league. There are a lot of guys like that available in this expansion draft—the only slight risk of losing Brice is if an executive loved him as a prospect out of UNC and takes him in a late round, but I think he’s pretty safe. Either way, I value Dekker and Harrell more highly than Brice right now, and they’re all the same age.
- Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell
I really like Jawun and Sindarius, and that’s no secret. But the truth is that the second round of the NBA Draft is a crapshoot, and you can buy a second round pick for the next Evans or Thornwell next summer. Just like Brice, you could potentially lose one or both of these guys in the late rounds if an expansion team executive is really in love with them, but I highly doubt that either is going anywhere.
- DeAndre Liggins
Liggins is a very, very long shot to make the Clippers’ roster. I’d actually like to keep him around for depth as a wing defender if it wasn’t for the luxury tax ramifications, but there’s no way that it make sense for the Clippers to protect him in this expansion draft.
There are my picks and explanations. Like I said, there’s some flexibility at the bottom but I’m pretty comfortable with my 8—no real dilemmas in my mind, and although likely losing Lou is rough, it’s preferable to losing Austin or Milos, or risking one of the young frontcourt rotation players.
Let me know in the comments who your choices are, and be sure to check out the rest of #SBNMock around SBNation today.