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Which Clippers Should be Protected From a Hypothetical Expansion Draft?

If the NBA were to expand to 32 teams after this season, which Clippers would you protect?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers-Media Day Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The idea of NBA expansion has been bouncing around for a number of years. Commissioner Adam Silver has basically said that expansion at some point is inevitable, but we currently have no timetable for when such a thing may take place. Just about everybody thinks Seattle deserves to get its SuperSonics back, and one would imagine rectifying that situation would be pretty high on the league’s list of priorities. A 32-team NBA is going to happen eventually.

On Thursday, Andy Bailey of SBN’s own SLC Dunk tweeted a hypothetical about what it might look like if the NBA decided to create 2 new teams ahead of next season, which would mean we would have an expansion draft sometime after this season ends.

Andy then went on to ask others on Twitter to respond with which 8 players they would want their favorite team to protect in the event of an expansion draft. Let’s say the league is putting a new team in Seattle and another one in, say, Louisville. We’ll use the same rules the league used back in 2004 when the Charlotte Bobcats were brought into the league. The rules are as follows:

  • Each team may protect a maximum of 8 players who are currently under contract or will be restricted free agents in the following offseason. Players whose contracts expire at the end of the current season are ineligible for protection, and the expansion teams can’t draft them, either.
  • The expansion teams may not select more than one player from any team.

There are more rules, but those are the main parameters. Per the rules, the Clippers may not protect Tobias Harris, Patrick Beverley, Marcin Gortat, Boban Marjanovic, Milos Teodosic, Luc Mbah a Moute or Mike Scott, because all of them will be unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2019.

That leaves 10 players, including those on two-way contracts, that the Clips may protect. Those players are Danilo Gallinari, Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Johnathan Motley, Angel Delgado, Montrezl Harrell, Jerome Robinson, Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Wallace. Which 8 would LAC protect? Remember, they don’t have to protect 8. They can go under if they want.

The Locks

I don’t think anybody would argue that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Montrezl Harrell would be obvious guys for the Clippers to keep. Shai is the most promising rookie the Clippers have had since Blake Griffin (low hurdle, I know), while Harrell is quickly blossoming into one of the most indispensable players on the roster. Not bad for a guy that was essentially a throw-in in the Chris Paul trade. Obviously, the Clippers wouldn’t let them walk.

Jerome Robinson is probably also a lock. The rookie has played sparingly, appearing in just 7 games for the Clippers with an average of 5 minutes per appearance. Playing time was always going to be hard to come by for him with Beverley, Bradley, Williams and Gilgeous-Alexander eating up the lion’s share of the minutes in the crowded backcourt. Robinson has seen most of his playing time in the G League with the Agua Caliente Clippers, where he’s averaging 27 points (10th in the league) while connecting on better than 43 percent of his looks from three-point range through four games. The Clippers wouldn’t just let the No. 13 pick in the draft up and leave after a season, so the decision to protect him from the expansion draft would seem to be an easy call.

Tyrone Wallace played well enough on his two-way deal last season to earn himself a guaranteed contract this past summer. Minutes have been hard to come by given LAC’s loaded backcourt, but he’s nudged his way into a few more minutes of late with Bradley sidelined. He’s 24 and he’s shown enough at this level to where I think he’s someone worth keeping around.

Therefore, the only four guys I’d be comfortable suggesting as locks to stay protected would be SGA, Harrell, Wallace, and Robinson.

The Vets

The Clippers are going to have a ton of cap space next summer with so many guys set to become UFAs. Gallinari will make about $22.5 million, Bradley has a team option for just under $13 million, Williams will make $8 million and Harrell will earn $6 million. The other remaining players will each earn under $4 million during the 2019-20 campaign.

Gallinari and Williams are key cogs on the current iteration of the Clippers, while Bradley was making some strides before going down with an ankle injury. The conversation regarding protecting Gallinari is an interesting one. His first year with the team was essentially lost due to injury, but he’s bounced back nicely this season. He’s averaging 19 points and just under 6 rebounds while shooting better than 43 percent from long range. He may not be as springy as he once was, but he’s still an effective and creative scorer off the bounce while his ability to space the floor is welcomed.

Gallo is still only 30, and the fact that he has just one full season left on his deal after this one means keeping him wouldn’t necessarily be a burden for the Clippers. He’s probably making more money than he’s worth, but he’s still giving the team good minutes and it’s not a long-term commitment in the first place. I lean toward keeping Gallinari protected, if for no other reason than to serve as a potential security blanket on the offensive end of the floor.

Williams and Bradley are each making far less than Gallinari, which makes both players quite tradable if the Clippers want to go down that road. The offensive-minded Williams has proven to be a nice complement to Gilgeous-Alexander in the backcourt, especially in late-game situations. Keeping Lou just seems like a no-brainer. He has a defined role on the team, and if a decent offer comes along he’d be easy to trade. There’s not much downside to just keeping him around.

Bradley is more of a conversation. The Clippers somewhat surprisingly gave him a two-year deal with a team opt out after the first season this past summer. Bradley was a useful piece with the Celtics before struggling through a down year last year between Detroit and L.A. The Clips are obviously hoping that he can play well enough to restore his value, which could make him an attractive trade chip for a team with short-term championship aspirations. The jury is still out on whether he’ll be able to do so.

I’d leave Bradley unprotected. If an expansion team wants to take him off the Clippers’ hands, fine. If not, the Clippers can either keep him for another season or exercise their opt out. So, I’m keeping Gallo and Lou while leaving Bradley off the list. That gives us 6 protected Clippers so far.

The Kids

The remaining options are pretty unproven at the NBA level. Motley looked solid late last season with the Mavericks as they tanked their way to a high lottery pick. Thornwell was up-and-down last season as a rookie with the Clips, while Delgado has only been seen in the G League to this point.

Motley started the last 4 games of last season with the Mavs, and he averaged 16.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game during that stretch. It’s obviously a small sample, but he’s still only 23. Through 4 games in the G League this season, the Baylor product is averaging 22.5 points and over 13 boards a game. I’m intrigued enough to where I’m fine protecting Motley from expansion.

Thornwell played a decent role last season while supplying passable wing defense and solid 37.7 percent shooting from deep. He’s got a little P.J. Tucker in him in that he’s a bit short to play the 3 but he has enough heft to potentially guard bigger wings. I can go either way here. He may struggle to crack the rotation, especially if the Clippers want to use him as a guard, so I’m basically 50/50 on Thornwell. He’s obviously not star material, but he looks like he could be a solid role player at some point. I’ll lean toward leaving him unprotected.

Delgado seems like more of a project than anything else. If you have Harrell and Motley as your designated protected bigs I think Delgado can be safely left off.

The Verdict

As it stands I’d say there would be 7 Clippers I’d protect from an expansion draft: Harrell, Gallinari, Williams, Motley, Gilgeous-Alexander, Wallace and Robinson. I’m wishy-washy on the likes of Bradley and Thornwell, but as of now I’d lean toward letting them potentially go.

Which Clippers would you protect from a would-be expansion draft?


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