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SB Nation Mock Expansion Draft: Who the Mavericks should protect

In a hypothetical expansion draft, we selected the eight players that Dallas should hold onto.

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Hi, it’s me again, still retired but helping out with today’s SB Nation network event. Based off some recent comments from Adam Silver that expansion is inevitable, we’re all going to imagine what an expansion draft would look like.

Each team around the league was allowed to protect eight players. Here are the eight players I selected for the Mavericks:

  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Harrison Barnes
  • Dennis Smith Jr.
  • Seth Curry
  • Yogi Ferrell
  • J.J. Barea
  • Salah Mejri
  • Nerlens Noel*

*Since this is only a thought exercise, we’re assuming that Noel re-signs with the Mavericks. (By the way, I’m still 99 percent sure that will happen, despite the long delay — even if the last things I heard is that it was still far off.)

This needs some explanation, and I know it does. It’s important to note right now that this isn’t the Mavericks’ best eight players, necessarily. I certainly don’t think that it’s that. Instead, these are the eight players with the most value; the ones you would hate to lose the most, taking into account contract information and everything else.

The no-brainers

Dirk, Barnes, Curry, Smith, Ferrell and Noel (once again, assuming he re-signs) are all easy selections. That’s the young core of your team, plus the greatest Maverick in franchise history. Maybe you could unprotect Dirk knowing no expansion team would dare select him, but why risk it? Or maybe his no-trade clause would protect him, but again, this is only a thought exercise without specific rules.

I don’t think anyone would argue with these six. It’s the next two that get interesting.

I chose Barea and Mejri

More importantly, perhaps, I did not choose Wesley Matthews. I actually love Wes, and I have no desire to get him off the team. But if the Mavericks are angling for cap space next summer as they seem to be, then they really can’t risk Matthews picking up his $18.6 million player option next summer. If someone wants a great locker room guy, reliable veteran and minutes-filler who hardly ever misses time — a great thing to have on an expansion team, mind you — then that’s best for the Mavericks’ long-term future, I’d argue.

(The absence of Matthews as a mentor for the young players would be unfortunate. He really is great at that, and I’ve got him penciled in for a mild comeback season. Still, you gotta move that contract if you can.)

Instead, I picked Barea and Mejri. Barea is that steady veteran whose impact is felt on the court and off of it. Consistently, the Mavericks offense performs better with him playing, and he has an unbreakable chemistry with Nowitzki. He’s not the loudest locker room voice, but he’s a good one. If Matthews is picked by one of the two hypothetical expansion teams, you want to make sure that you have someone like Barea sticking around.

I opted for Mejri as the second player simply because he’s an excellent, cheap backup center under team control at the veteran’s minimum for two more seasons. Especially if Noel continues to struggle with injuries, having depth at the center position is crucial for this team.

Before choosing my eight players, I asked the Mavs Moneyball staff for their thoughts. One or both of Mejri and Barea were popular suggestions for these final two protected spots, as well as Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Harris. I like Finney-Smith, and he would be a fine player to protect over Mejri. Still, I feel like you can always find some Finney-Smiths in the world. For Dwight Powell, it’s not his on-court play that got him banned from the list, but his contract. Most of the staff agrees that he is just making a bit too much for what he’s actually able to do.

What do you think? If you had an expansion draft coming up and only eight players available, who would you protect for the Mavericks?