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Who should the Utah Jazz protect if the NBA expanded?

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Could teams be coming to Las Vegas and Seattle?

NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Golden State Warriors Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Recent rumors surfaced that the NBA is strongly considering expanding the league an additional 2 teams. The natural timeline may have been in 2024 when the current TV deal runs out, but with COVID-19 stressing many teams and ownership groups financially, that timeline could be pushed up to as early as 2022 according to some.

Such an expansion would cost $2.5 billion dollars per additional team, leading to over $160 million in immediate revenue for the current 30 teams. That’s a game changer in these discussions.

The NBA hasn’t added a team since the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) in 2004. The obvious first city choice here is Seattle. The Supersonics absolutely need to be back in the league. The next most likely city appears to be Las Vegas, with Vancouver getting floated around as well.

But how would this affect the Utah Jazz, aside from a hopeful shift in conference and division alignments?

In previous expansion drafts, teams were able to protect 8 players from selection in an expansion draft. In 2004, the Utah Jazz lost Aleksander Pavlovic while in 1995 they lost Blue Edwards.

So that begs the question, if the NBA expanded this upcoming offseason, who should the Utah Jazz protect? Rules: unrestricted free agents are not eligible for the draft (Mike Conley, Shaq Harrison), Restricted Free Agents are eligible, teams can protect up to 8 players but must have at least 1 player made available, and only 2 total players can be taken from each team (1 from each expansion team).

1. Rudy Gobert

An obvious choice to be protected from the expansion draft, as is the next one. Gobert is one of the best defensive players on the planet in his prime. The ink is barely even dry on his new extension. It would be a no brainer to ensure that the 2 expansion teams would be unable to take Gobert away from the Jazz.

2. Donovan Mitchell

Equally as easy of a choice is Donovan Mitchell. He’s one of the faces of this franchise. He is still very young and coming off an All Star season in just his 3rd year. No way are the Jazz letting him be eligible in an expansion draft. Not much else needs to be said here.

3. Jordan Clarkson

Another player the Utah front office just re-signed. Clarkson has been a revelation for the Utah Jazz bench since being traded for last season. Initially it might have seemed that it was an overpay to keep him in a Jazz jersey. Well, now he’s averaging almost 17 points per game in just 24 minutes (!) and is a leading candidate for 6th man of the year. He’s not going anywhere.

4. Bojan Bogdanovic

Don’t let his current performance dictate his value. He may not be playing up to his typical standard at the moment, but once that wrist gets right I have no doubt he’ll be back to the Bogdanovic we quickly came to know and love last year. He’s got an additional 2 years left on his contract, so he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

5. Derrick Favors

After a 1 year hiatus from his true NBA home, the Utah Jazz brought Derrick Favors back using their MLE this offseason. This was done to fill a very specific and important whole when Rudy Gobert is on the bench. I don’t believe the front office would let Favors be snatched up in an expansion draft. Plus, he doesn’t belong in any other jersey anyways.

6. Royce O’Neale

Royce is one of Utah’s best talent-finding successes. After bringing him in as an undrafted free agent he’s developed into a quality role player for a playoff team. Currently a starter on a reasonable deal, I have a hard time believing he wouldn't be protected. He doesn’t score a ton, but he’s a solid defender and shooter which are talents that will never not be needed in the league.

7. Udoka Azubuike

Ok now things are getting very difficult. However, the Jazz just spent a first round draft pick on Dok. He’s not ready to contribute right now, but early indications make me think he’ll make it in the league. He’ll be on a rookie deal for several more years and the chance at solid production on a small deal is huge for a contending team with multiple max deals.

8. Elijah Hughes

NO JOE INGLES!? Look, I know, This probably isn’t going to be very popular. But Joe Ingles is slated to make 14 million dollars last year. He’s an important piece in the locker room and he’s been a fan favorite. But he’s not worth 14 million at this point in his career. Additionally, if the Jazz don’t make any moves for the remainder of the season they will be a tax team. That’s fine for a season or two, but I don’t think even Ryan Smith will engage in paying the repeater tax (tax team in 3 of last 4 seasons). With Donovan and Rudy’s deals only getting bigger, avoiding the tax next season could ultimately be an important priority. I don’t like it, but that likely means getting off Ingles’ deal. Now, if he wasn’t selected in the draft that (obviously) wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Either you get to keep the Jazz lifer, or his contract could be used in a trade to change the talent or cap situation for the Jazz.

Why Hughes over Oni? Tough call. Oni’s development seems to have gone really well from seasons 1 to 2. He’s been praised for his defensive improvement particularly. But goodness I really liked what I saw from Hughes in the preseason. He’s just a natural, gifted scorer. He’s not ready to contribute, but he likely will be in a year or two. I think his future and potential is a little brighter than Oni’s. If we’re lucky, Oni will be left alone in the expansion draft and we get to keep both!

Unprotected

Ok so that leaves the following players available in the expansion draft:

  • Joe Ingles
  • Georges Niang
  • Miye Oni
  • Juwan Morgan
  • Jarrell Brantley and Trent Forrest? (no idea how expansion drafts view two way players)

This was a more painful exercise than I anticipated. The Jazz are a deep team and I’d hate to see (almost) any of these guys go. Would you approach the scenario differently?