From 1988 to 2004 seven expansion teams were added to the NBA, but in the 19 years since there have been no additions even as the NBA is more popular than ever. It seems all but certain the NBA will expand at some point very soon now. Adam Silver stated back in July that expansion would be considered and even named the two cities the league was looking to in Seattle and Las Vegas. Silver also gave a timeline of 2025, and confirmed that the league will begin exploring the idea once the current media rights deal is up.
Having been less direct in the past it seems much more certain it will happen in either the 2025 or 2026 off seasons. The process could be started after the 2024 season and likely be ready for an expansion draft in 2025.
Last year we researched previous expansion draft rules and ran a hypothetical Mock Expansion draft.
2004 NBA Expansion Rules
The 2004 NBA expansion draft was pretty straightforward and I would expect the next Expansion draft to be similar in the rules. The main points….
- Unrestricted free agents are ineligible for the expansion draft.
- Each team can protect up to eight players. If a team has less than eight players on its roster to protect, it still must leave a minimum of one player unprotected.
- The expandsion team must select a minimum of 14 players
- The expansion team can select only one player from any one NBA team.
- The expansion team is not bound to the salary cap during the draft. They can take on as many contracts as they like. However, once the draft is over, any players they’ve drafted and keep will count toward their cap
- As long as the expansion team waives a player selected in the expansion draft before the first day of the regular season, the player’s remaining contract does not count against the team’s salary cap.
- Restricted free agents drafted in the expansion draft automatically become unrestricted free agents.
- Teams are allowed to entice the expansion team to select players by offering cash, draft picks or agreeing to additional trades in return.
- If a team has a player selected by the expansion team, the team receives a trade exception equal to the player’s 2004-05 salary. This allows teams to replace a player lost in the expansion draft with another player of comparable salary.
Now that we have more concrete information, and with the off-season over, and more players are under contract through 2025. Let’s take a look towards 2025 and see what kind of players may be under contract and available in an expansion draft.
Of course, this is speculation, and some players can and will sign extensions and be under contract and available for protection or entering the pool. Others will progress or regress unexpectedly, and there will be trades as well. We still will have some idea looking two years out on who may be available, especially those perceived bad or bloated contracts.
Most teams are sophisticated now that they wouldn’t draft those or old players like they did in the 1990’s and would likely leave high salary, old and/or average players unprotected knowing they wouldn’t be drafted.
The philosophy would be to target the best combination of youth, value contracts, and players with multiple years of control where available. Since there will be no chance of building a good team, expansion teams would just want the most upside and best value contracts we can take. They will look to tank the first year and get another good draft pick. We will also use the cap space to add some bad contracts at price for taking them on of future draft pick sweeteners.
These are the contracts on the books in 2025-26. The cap is going up so some of these contracts do not look as bad 2 years out as of now. Many of the players under 25 will be extended on rookie deals or out of the league.
Projected to be Left Unprotected
As of today these would be the players I think could be expect to be left unprotected. There will be plenty of filler on every team by that point. The pool would be expected to be a mix of overpaid players, aging vets, and young guys who have done nothing. It’s likely the teams drafting would just take those young filler players. These are the interesting names that might be in the pool though and in some cases maybe Seattle or Las Vegas would take a useful 33 year old on a decent contract and try to flip them at the deadline. Some of these players will change teams but would likely still be in the pool of players or similar to what would be left unprotected. For some of the name players you have to consider their age at that point for example Nikola Vučević and where they could reasonably be projected to be. It makes sense for some players like Draymond Green to be left unprotected because and expansion team would be unlikely to take them take a 35 year old with 55 million on the books.
|Age in 2025|
|Kenneth Lofton Jr.||23||$2,187,45|
|Wendell Moore Jr.||23||$4,574,283|
|Kira Lewis Jr.||24|
|Patrick Baldwin Jr.||22||$4,420,156|
If it were to follow the 1995 format, each team would have a pick and each team in the league would have a player selected from it. It’s also important to remember that under the new CBA there is a salary floor and they have to spend a certain amount. It is possible they would select a couple of higher-priced veterans unlike the Charlotte Bobcats. They could also just take on some bad contracts and collect some picks to do so, which I think would be more likely. One thing that would be more interesting than in 2004 is there would be a competition to get your pick whereas in 2004 the order of selection really didn’t matter since they could have anyone they wanted.
|2||Las Vegas||Jaden Hardy||23|
|4||Las Vegas||Kira Lewis Jr.||24|
|6||Las Vegas||Julian Champagnie||24|
|8||Las Vegas||Kenneth Lofton Jr.||23|
|10||Las Vegas||Jordan Goodwin||26|
|12||Las Vegas||Jalen McDaniels||27|
|14||Las Vegas||A.J. Green||25|
|16||Las Vegas||Emoni Bates||21|
|18||Las Vegas||Marcus Sasser||24|
|20||Las Vegas||Max Christie||22|
|21||Seattle||Patrick Baldwin Jr.||22|
|22||Las Vegas||Bryce McGowens||22|
|24||Las Vegas||Lester Quinones||24|
|26||Las Vegas||Miles McBride||24|
|28||Las Vegas||Caleb Houstan||24|
|30||Las Vegas||Kenrich Williams||30|
|Seattle||Patrick Baldwin Jr.||22|
|Las Vegas||Jaden Hardy||23|
|Las Vegas||Kira Lewis Jr.||24|
|Las Vegas||Julian Champagnie||24|
|Las Vegas||Kenneth Lofton Jr.||23|
|Las Vegas||Jordan Goodwin||26|
|Las Vegas||Jalen McDaniels||27|
|Las Vegas||A.J. Green||25|
|Las Vegas||Emoni Bates||21|
|Las Vegas||Marcus Sasser||24|
|Las Vegas||Max Christie||22|
|Las Vegas||Bryce McGowens||22|
|Las Vegas||Lester Quinones||24|
|Las Vegas||Miles McBride||24|
|Las Vegas||Caleb Houstan||24|
|Las Vegas||Kenrich Williams||30|