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Who would the Pistons protect if the league expanded?

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Would the Pistons lose a valuable player in the event of expansion?

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Detroit Pistons Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

There have been many reports and rumours coming out of the woodwork recently about the fascinating phenomenon of NBA expansion. Stories have recently indicated or guessed that Seattle, Louisville and even Mexico City (lol) are possible locations for expansion franchises.

The reason I’m even bringing this subject up, given the cloudy nature of its actual realisation, is the fact that were such an event to happen, it would require an expansion draft, a funny concept in the scope of the NBA. For those of you unaware with what an expansion draft is, I’ll attempt to explain in layman’s terms.

Each pre-existing team in the league submits a list of “protected players” prior to the draft, meaning that these players cannot be sniped by a new franchise. Teams can protect up to eight players, and once a player has been selected, no other player from that team can be picked. These are the rules that have been defined for a one-team draft, so the rules may be a little murkier for multi-team expansion, but these are the parameters we’ll operate by here for the exercise.

The last NBA expansion draft occurred in 2004 for the inception of the Charlotte Bobcats, where they selected 19 players (but no Pistons). Just to indicate an idea of the level of players available in these exercises, of the 19 players selected, only 8 actually appeared in a game for the fledgling franchise:

  • Lonny Baxter
  • Primoz Brezec
  • Jason Kapono
  • Jamal Sampson
  • Tamar Slay
  • Theron Smith
  • Gerald Wallace
  • Jahidi White

Zaza Pachulia, yes, he of NBA All-Star fan ballot fame, was also selected but traded, and of the 19 players picked, only seven had at least three years of NBA experience, with eight having just finished their rookie year.

The 1995 expansion draft had both the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies as expansion teams, and 27 players were selected (14 for Toronto, 13 for Vancouver). Again, the one player per team rule was in effect (Pistons big man Oliver Miller was the 27th and final pick to Toronto), while, of course, the 1989 expansion draft featured the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who destroyed the core of the Bad Boys by taking Rick Mahorn with their first pick. So this brings us to today’s little exercise.

Who do the Pistons protect in the event of an expansion draft?

There are a few ways to look at this. Firstly lets look at reasons to protect:

  • Star player
  • Rookie contract/young prospect
  • Productive

The reasons are pretty obvious here, and they’re equally unintelligent for not protecting someone:

  • Irrelevant/neutral piece
  • Bad contract

With the Pistons, there are five to six players where I feel it’s pretty obvious to protect, so lets run through them.

Reggie Jackson

Your starting point guard who averages 16 and 5 in 29 minutes per game, and someone who you invested heavily in to acquire via trade and acquire the ability to pay him.

Andre Drummond

The team’s only All-Star, a double-double machine, top-five center in the East when on (admittedly less than ideal but time and place), and a draft pick of the club whom you have invested massive coin into. Also, at only 23, sky’s the limit.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Had this been a year ago or so this might be a harder question but KCP has blossomed into a premier shooting guard, hitting over 40 percent of his treys and locking down his man on defence. He’s a budding star in the weakest position in the league, at 23.

Tobias Harris

Easily the team’s most consistent offensive player, and on a decreasing scale contract in an era of salary cap explosion. At only 24 and with the offensive consistency to play starter or off the bench at small forward or power forward, you don’t give that away.

Marcus Morris

Yes his play is inconsistent but he’s such a valuable trade chip with a long term contract at well below market value. There’s a theme developing here of not allowing valuable trade assets to leave for free.

Jon Leuer

He’s by no means a bad contract and he’s proved to be a very valuable and consistent contributor to the team as either a starter or sixth man. Also the only consistently good reserve (when he plays that role) with positional versatility to play power forward or small ball backup center.

Stanley Johnson

At 20 years old and already a tenacious defender, we’ve seen the last few games how good Stanley can be when his offense comes along. He’s in the second year of his four-year rookie deal and there’s no incentive to leaving him unprotected.

Henry Ellenson

This is one for the future here. At 20 years of age and in his first NBA season, the Pistons have three years of control of Henry at a cut-price value that only a rookie contract provides.

Who’s the biggest danger to leave?

This is the double-edged sword of the expansion draft. Judging by the list above, the players in danger would be Aron Baynes, Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith, Beno Udrih, Darrun Hilliard, Michael Gbinije and Boban Marjanovic.

Realistically, I can’t see Hilliard, Gbinije or Boban being selected due to not having shown much in their NBA careers yet, plus Boban’s contract being so large (yes these contracts carry over).

The rationale for selecting someone like Baynes or Udrih would be the ol’ #veteranleadership that we like to prattle on about endlessly. Both are NBA champions and are ideal old heads to spearhead and guide a likely very-young roster made up of draft picks, young guys off the scrapheap and undrafted free agents with little NBA experience.

Ish Smith is the kind of point guard that tends to get selected in an exercise like this due to his journeyman nature and his ability to pick up new offenses quickly, plus his style of play being very effective for a young team, plus he isn’t exactly inexperienced in the NBA.

Bullock would be a savvy selection by a team looking for professionalism and team play, with Bullock fitting the mold of a selfless guy who moves the ball and himself, cuts and dives well and hits a consistent three ball.

Ultimately the NBA expansion draft is an exercise in selecting the best parts from the spare parts tip, but with the recent rumours I thought it could make a fun exercise as the Pistons hit a slow part of the schedule.

So who would you protect and who do you think gets sniped? Leave your comments below.