Expansion Drafts Revisited

With Charlotte Bobcat’s expansion draft coming in the near future, it’s a fair to pose the question: what is the expansion draft worth in the larger scheme of things?  Well, it does not really seem to be too much.  The expansion team is seeking warm bodies and/or unproven players with theoretical upside.  In a perfect world, the expansion drafter would poach a bunch of talented young guys who haven’t really gotten the chance to play.  In reality, most guys taken in the expansion draft are quickly cast aside.  This is all an exercise in amassing enough players on its roster to get the franchise going for its inaugural beating.  Of course, in the new world with the expanding overseas talent pool, we may see the Bobcats take chances on foreign players and other creative things like that.

The Bobcats are the first expansion team to enter the NBA without a twin since the Dallas Mavericks in 1980.  In total, the NBA has had nine prior expansions (not including the 1976 absorption of four ABA teams):

1966    Chicago Bulls

1967    San Diego Rockets, Seattle SuperSonics

1968    Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns

1970    Buffalo Braves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trailblazers

1974    New Orleans Jazz

1976    NBA absorbs New Jersey Nets, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets

1980    Dallas Mavericks

1988    Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets

1989    Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic

1995    Toronto Raptors, Vancouver Grizzlies

I thought it would be instructive to look at the past three expansion drafts (1) the 1988 Draft for Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets, (2) the 1989 Draft for Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves, and (3) the 1995 draft for Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies to see what we can learn that might help the Bobcats this week.  Without further ado, let’s look at the three most recent drafts:

1988 Expansion Draft

This was the first major NBA expansion since 1970 (ABA excluded) and no one was really sure how it would turn out.  The Heat were apparently going the strict youth route while the Hornets were a bit more quizzical.  They wore pleated gym shorts and didn’t really have a stated plan.  Still, it seems that in retrospect the Hornets did a little better with this draft.

1. Arvid Kramer, Dallas; Who?  Kramer was a 6’9 center out of Augustana college in 1979.  He played 8 games with the Nuggets in 1979-80 before being selected by the Mavs in the 1980 expansion draft.  He never played another NBA because he apparently went over to Germany and starred there.  He is still working with a European team to this day.  The question is why the Heat drafted him with their pick.  I see no apparent reason for this and he didn’t seem to even make the team.  I guess the Heat either had a vision that is not apparent now or a nice sense of humor about past expansion picks.  The answer is likely the former but still it obviously didn’t work out. 

3. Billy Thompson, L.A. Lakers; Thompson was a little easier to understand.  He was a “jump out the gym” young Laker who couldn’t do much else and he had James Worthy in front of him.  Kind of like Gerald Wallace today.  Thompson had a couple of solid 10 ppg, 7 rpg seasons before fading out to Europe by 1992.  He had a good career abroad in Israel and Turkey.

5. Fred Roberts, Boston; The ultimate roster filler/mediocre forward was taken from the Celts.  He was quickly dealt to Milwaukee where he was part of the the late 1980s-early 1990s white boy front line (Robert, Frank Brickowski, Danny Schayes, Brad Lohaus, Larry Krystkowiak).  Roberts was actually the perfect player for an expansion team.  He hung around until 1996-97 and even had a couple of 10 ppg seasons after 1988.

7. Scott Hastings, Atlanta; A funny guy but not a good player.  Let go by the Hawks because the position of designated fouler was already taken by Jon Koncak, Hastings came to the Heat.  Reportedly after his first Heat practice, Hastings called his old coach Mike Fratello and said “I’m worried.  I’m the best guy here!”  Hastings wasn’t good on the Heat but he did score his career high for them, a whopping 5.1 ppg.

9. Jon Sundvold, San Antonio; Though gun shy by today’s standards, Sundvold was known as a three-point specialist.  He made good on the Heat where he led the NBA in 3-point accuracy at .522% (he shot 48 for 92 for the season).  Sundvold spent the rest of his career with the Heat (until 1991-92) and played as John Paxson/Steve Kerr-type.

11. Kevin Williams, Seattle; Vet forward out of St. John’s was cut by Miami and played only one more year in the NBA.

13. Hansi Gnad, Philadelphia; Like Kramer, he was apparently NBA property who never actually played in the NBA.  He starred in Germany and is currently a coach for Leverusken.

15. Darnell Valentine, L.A. Clippers; Mediocre vet point guard was immediately dealt over Cleveland where he continued to be a useful backup point guard.

17. Dwayne Washington, New Jersey; Do you remember him?  This is “Pearl” Washington of Syracuse fame.  He washed out in Jersey and played one similar season for the inaugural Heat before falling out of the NBA.

19. Andre Turner, Houston; Fringe point guard out of Memphis was traded to Milwaukee before the season started. 

21. Conner Henry, Sacramento;  Young player out of Houston, after the expansion draft he was let go and never again played in the NBA.

23. John Stroeder, Milwaukee; CBA player who was drafted as an afterthought.  He didn’t really play in the NBA again after the expansion draft.

2. Dell Curry, Cleveland; The Hornets really hit it big with Del.  He spent 10 years as Mr. Hornet, a lethal shooter off the bench.  A great pick who turned out shall we say slightly better than Arvid Kramer.

4. Dave Hoppen, Golden State; Big bruiser out of Nebraska.  After one year with the Warriors, Hoppen was taken by Charlotte and put up 6.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg.  He faded after that and bounced around as roster filler.  He is best remembered for being criticized by Charles Barkley for being the token white guy on Philly’s bench.

6. Tyrone Bogues, Washington; Another very good pick.  Muggsy was considered a circus oddity with Washington but he had nine very good years in Carolina.  The Hornets were constantly trying to replace Bogues but his stats were actually very impressive. 

8. Mike Brown, Chicago; Big man was immediately traded for Kelly Tripucka, who filled the role of leading scorer on the ugly early Charlotte teams.

10. Rickey Green, Utah; 34-year old vet point backed up Muggsy for 1988-89 before moving on.  He had lost his starting job in Utah to some kid named Stockton.  An interesting side note on Green is that two years later, in 1990-91, Green stepped into a starting role to replace an injured Johnny Dawkins and put up decent numbers (10 ppg, 5.2 apg) at age 36. 

12. Michael Holton, Portland; A decent young guard out of UCLA, Holton put up 8.3 ppg and 6.3 apg in 1988-89.  Surprisingly, Holton only lasted 16 more NBA games after that season.

14. Michael Brooks, Denver; Hornets cut him in before the season, didn’t play in the NBA again.

16. Bernard Thompson, Phoenix; Sent over to Houston before the season where he sat the bench before falling out of the NBA.

18. Ralph Lewis, Detroit; Bench player for the Bad Boys as a rookie in 1987-88.  Played one year with Charlotte and missed the Pistons first Bad Boy championship.  Not to worry, Lewis re-signed with the Pistons for the 1989-90 championship, after which he never again played in the NBA.

20. Clinton Wheeler, Indiana; Never played with Charlotte, he was sent over to Portland as a 12th man.

22. Sedric Toney, New York; Also never played with Charlotte but was actually able to stick in the NBA for a few years as a third point guard.

Everyone Loved Muggsy Bogues

Unlike the Heat or even the Hornets, the next wave of expansioneers were mainly concerned with finding instant respectability.  There were few young players with upside.  Just mostly vets who could fill a role for a year two.  As a result, both teams struggled for a while before they hit lottery gold in the 1990s.

1989 Expansion Draft

1. Sidney Green, New York; Veteran bench power forward for the Knicks was not the type of guy a young team needs but he tried.  He put up on year of 10 ppg and 8 rpg before moving back to the bench role for the Spurs.

3. Reggie Theus, Atlanta; Very similar to the Tripucka-Hornet pick.  An aging no-defense player with a bad perm who can score.  Both were brought in to generate a modicum of excitement for a team destined to be bad.  Theus was actually a better player than Tripucka and a better player than people gave him credit for.  He put up 19 ppg and 5.4 apg for the Magic and was almost as good for the Nets they year after, his final in the NBA.  Probably could’ve played longer if he had wanted to.

5. Terry Catledge, Washington; Cadillac was the first “star” for the Magic.  He scored 19.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg his first year in Orlando and around 15 ppg for another two years.  He quickly disappeared when Shaq came to town. 

7. Sam Vincent, Chicago; Vincent was one of the few young upside players taken by the Magic.  Drafted off of the Bulls roster because it was clear a true point guard couldn’t mesh with Jordan.  Vincent was decent on Magic before jumping over to Europe in 1992.

9. Otis Smith, Golden State; Smith was one of those “little warrior” types,  A 6’5 forward who liked to bang.  He was a useful bench player for Oralndo gor three years, maxing out at 13.9 ppg and 5.2 rpg.  Like Catledge, he was considered obsolete after Shaq’s arrival.

11. Scott Skiles, Indiana; For some reason, between Vincent and Skiles, the Magic did well in drafting point guards.  Skiles was a very good player (though he aged very poorly as he was bounced from the NBA by age 31).  He scored 17.2 ppg and 8.4 apg once he got the starting job.  In addition, Skiles set the NBA record for assists in a game with Orlando (30) against the Nuggets in 1990-91.

13. Jerry Reynolds, Seattle; Mediocre shooter, nicknamed “Ice,” who put up 12 ppg over three seasons in Orlando.

15. Mark Acres, Boston; Backed up Greg Kite at center for three years.

17. Morlon Wiley, Dallas; Played as third point behind Skiles and Vincent.  Journeyman for miserable Dallas teams of the early 1990s after leaving Orlando.

19. Jim Farmer, Utah; Sent over to Seattle before the start of the Magic’s first year.

21. Keith Lee, New Jersey; This Lee was the big bust draft pick out of Memphis who was traded for Charles Oakley.  His knees were already shot by 1989 and he didn’t even make the Magic roster.

23. Frank Johnson, Houston; Another vet point guard.  He was decent previously in Washington but couldn’t make the Magic roster.  He actually was out of the NBA for two years after this draft before Phoenix gave him a shot for the 1992-93 season. 

2. Rick Mahorn, Detroit; I can remember the images.  The Pistons had just won the championships and Mahorn just found out that he had been drafted form the Champs to the chump Wolves.  Mahorn was 31 and wanted no part of an ugly rebuilding scenario.  He refused to report and was traded over to Philly where he and Barkley put together a mediocre but highly entertaining team.

4. Tyrone Corbin, Phoenix; The vet played quite well as a hybrid forward in his two years in Minny.  The second year he put up a nice 18 ppg and 7.2 rpg, before the he was traded for Thurl Bailey.  Corbin went on to a have nice career as a forward off the bench in Utah, Atlanta, and a bunch of other places.

6. Steve Johnson, Portland; I always like Johnson on Portland.  He was a good percentage scorer (.572 for his career) and a good border.  Portland didn’t need him anymore with their emerging young talent, so Minny grabbed him.  But Johnson was pretty much done and he was sent out to Seattle where his career faded quickly.

8. Brad Lohaus, Sacramento; Like Fred Roberts before him, Lohaus was dealt from an expansion team to Milwaukee to make their all-Caucasian front line.

10. David Rivers, L.A. Lakers; Rivers was a great college point at Notre Dame.  He got little burn behind Magic Johnson and was exposed in the expansion draft.  Minny didn’t end up needing him because they drafted Pooh Richardson, so the team sent him to the Clipps.  Rivers didn’t stick on the Clipps either.  He ended up having a good and long career in Europe.

12. Mark Davis, Milwaukee; After being a rookie on Milwuakke, Davis didn’t make the T’Wolves.

14. Scott Roth, San Antonio; Decent shooting forward spent a year on the bench with Minny before falling out of the NBA.

16. Shelton Jones, Philadelphia; Like Mark Davis, a rookie who couldn’t make it with the T’Wolves for the second year.

18. Eric White, L.A. Clippers; Ditto.

20. Maurice Martin, Denver; Ditto.

22. Gunther Behnke, Cleveland; A German center who never played in the NBA. 

The 1995 expansion draft had two distinct figures, mad scientist Isiah Thomas of Toronto and Stu Jackson of the Grizz, who didn’t even qualify for his mad scientist license.  Just like now with Knicks, Thomas was always willing to try any venue to find talent, high school (Tracy McGrady), abroad (Andres Guibert), college (Damon Stoudamire), and the state pen (Alvin Robertson).  The Grizz were less focused, as they drafted an alarming number of older retreads. 

1995 Expansion Draft

1. B.J. Armstrong, Chicago; Armstrong was only one year removed from an All Star appearance (albeit undeserving).  The story goes that the Bulls couldn’t trade Armstrong because Jerry Krause was so difficult to deal with they couldn’t get fair value.  As such, Thomas snapped up B.J. and immediately flipped him to the Warriors for youngster Carlos Rogers.  Rogers never turned out to be that good but it was the type of trade with upside that a forward looking GM would make.

3. Tony Massenburg, L.A. Clippers; Mr. Journeyman, he was and is useful as a banger.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Charlotte this year.

5. Andres Guibert, Minnesota; Guibert was a Cuban defector, who went to the Wolves for 1993-94 and 1994-95.  He was cut from the Raptors and is playing in Europe.

7. Keith Jennings, Golden State; Mr. Jennings, the 5’7 shooter from Golden State, was one of my favorite college players at East Tennessee State.  When Thomas drafted Damon Stoudamire, Jennings decided to bolt to Europe for more playing time.

9. Dontonio Wingfield, Seattle; He came out of Cincinnati after a promising freshman and struggled with Seattle.  The Raptors cut him after the draft and he went to the Blazers, where he was one of the original malcontents.  Injuries and immaturity bounced him out of the NBA by 1998.

11. Doug Smith, Dallas; A great power forward for Missouri was a bust for the Mavs.  The Raptors sent him to Boston where he played 17 more games before being sent to Europe to play.

13. Jerome Kersey, Portland; The strong Portland forward was starting to wind down when Toronto drafted him.  He was traded with Armstrong to Golden State.  From there Kersey spent another six years as a useful bench player.

15. Zan Tabak, Houston; Croatian big man was a mediocre center for Toronto.  He spent three years there as a sometimes big man.  Not very good but serviceable.  He went back to Europe after 2001.

17. Willie Anderson, San Antonio; A very good scorer for the Spurs in the late 1980s.  Leg injuries had sapped Anderson of most of his ability by 1995 but he actually was able to average double figures for Toronto before they traded him for Doug Christie in a very good trade.

19. Ed Pinckney, Milwaukee; Like Anderson, Pinckney was also near the end at that point.  He played some center but was traded over to Philly mid-way through 1995-96.

21. Acie Earl, Boston; Earl was a bust center out of Iowa who played two years in Toronto.  He wasn’t very good but oddly put up 40 points in a game for Toronto. 

23. B.J. Tyler, Philadelphia; Small slashing T.J. Ford-type guard.  According to “Drive,” by Chris Young,: “[Tyler] would suffer a career-ending injury before he had ever played a game, falling asleep with an ice pack on his leg and suffering ‘nerve damage.'”

25. John Salley, Miami; Another aging big guy was let go to the Bulls where he was able to pick up a ring sitting the bench on a 72-win Bull team.

27. Oliver Miller, Detroit; The troubled man.  He had a nice first year in Toronto (12.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg) but then put on much too much weight and struggled.  He had been out of the NBA for three year before the T’Wolves gave him a chance in 2003-04.

2. Greg Anthony, New York; 
After being on the fringe of a starting job for years in New York, Anthony was finally let go by the Knicks in the expansion draft (they felt that Charlie Ward was better).  In the Grizz’ first year, Anthony enjoyed by far his best season (14.0 ppg, 6.9 apg).  Anthony second year in Vancouver, 1996-97, was not nearly as successful and he was let go thereafter.  Anthony spent five more years as a useful backup before retiring prematurely after 2001-02, to be an analyst for ESPN.  

4. Rodney Dent, Orlando; Dent was an odd choice.  He was a decent player for Rick Pitino and Kentucky.  He spent his entire rookie year, 1994-95, on the injured list because of a knee injury he suffered at Kentucky.  The Grizz cut Dent and he never played in the NBA. 

6. Antonio Harvey, L.A. Lakers; Quasiuseful backup forward in the Jelani McCoy mold.  He was let go to the Clipps shortly after the expansion draft.  Harvey has been in and out of the NBA ever since.

8. Reggie Slater, Denver; Led the NCAA in rebounding in college, Slater was only 6’7 but he could bang.  The Grizz let Slater return back to Denver before the start of the season.  Like Harvey, he has bounced around the NBA for cameos and is occasionally useful.

10. Trevor Ruffin, Phoenix; I always liked this chucker out of Hawaii.  Ruffin played like Eddie House, he just shot the ball every time he touched it, and he even made a few.  The Grizz cut him before the season and he signed with Philly and was decent (12.8 ppg and 4.4 apg in 25 mpg).  After the season, Ruffin bolted to Europe where he has been a hired gun ever since.

12. Derrick Phelps, Sacramento; UNC guard played only three games with Sacramento in 1994-95 (his rookie year).   The Grizz drafted him and immediately cut him for no apparent reason.  He never played in the NBA again.

14. Larry Stewart, Washington; Hustling but unskilled forward made a name for himself on the Bullets as a rookie back in 1991-92 (10.4 ppg, 5.9)  By 1994-95, Stewart was a fringe guy who was oft injured and barely playing.  The Grizz cut him almost immediately and Stewart was out of the NBA for the 1995-96 season.

16. Kenny Gattison, Charlotte; Gattison’s career came full circle.  As a younger player, Gattison played center for the early Hornets’ teams.  By 1994-95, the Hornets had turned into a real team that didn’t need an aging, undersized center.  But Gatt was needed to play his familiar role with the Grizz at center.  He played okay too (9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) before back injuries forced him into to retirement midway through the season.

18. Byron Scott, Indiana; This was an interesting story.  By 1995, Scott was a solid bench player who was looking for a fun winning situation to wind down his career.  Scott thought he had found that with the emerging Pacers (a young Reggie Miller and Rik Smits).  Indeed, Scott had average about 10 ppg in about 18 mpg for Indiana in 1993-94 and 1994-95.  Still, the Pacers didn’t protect him because they had a deep team and they though the Grizz wouldn’t waste their time drafting an aging 34-year old guard.  Wrong.  The Grizz, in their infinite wisdom, took him–disappointing Scott and the Pacers.  Scott spent one year in Vancouver scoring 10 ppg (again) and being miserable.  He then went to the Lakers in 1996-97 to mentor a young rookie named Kobe Bryant for Byron’s final year.

20. Gerald Wilkins, Cleveland; Like Scott, Gerald was aging and not really useful for a expansion franchise.  In addition, Wilkins was coming off of a torn Achilles that would keep out for much of the 1995-96 season.  The Grizz apparently drafted Gerald to take an expiring contract and not for talent.  Gerald played only 28 games for the Grizz before playing a few more years with the Orlando Magic.

22. Benoit Benjamin, New Jersey; The original underachiever, the Nets practically begged the Grizz to take him.  Benjamin’s number in Jersey weren’t actually as bad as you might think but his aura had clearly worn out his welcome.  The Grizz planned to use him as starting center and nurse along rookie draft pick Bryant Reeves.  But only a few weeks into the 1995-96 season, the Grizz decided that Reeves could play so they traded Benjamin over to Milwaukee for the immortal Eric Mobley.

24. Doug Edwards, Atlanta; A mediocre small forward out of Florida State sat the Hawks’ bench for two years before the Grizz took him.  He played only 31 games for the Grizz before being cut out of the NBA.

26. Theodore Edwards, Utah; He’s not “Theodore,” to me, he’s Blue Edwards–the decent scoring guard for Utah and Milwaukee.  Blue did the same role for the Grizz (12.7 ppg) for three years before going to Europe.  Edwards is currently retired.  (An interesting aside, Blue Edwards is now known for being at the center of one of Canada’s leading child custody cases.  Apparently, Edwards had had a child out of wedlock with a woman in Vancouver.  Edwards and the woman battled for custody of the woman and Edward’s wife also made a claim for custody of the child, despite having no biological tie him.  The case went all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court before being resolved). 


It’s clear from a review of the above drafts that expansion drafts do not yield much impact.  Maybe four or five players from the draft end up even playing with the team.  And of the guys who end up playing with the expansion team, there is little chance of finding any sort of All Star.  It does seem, however, that the best strategy is to go with the young players with some track record of ability.  The best picks in these drafts (Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues, Tyrone Corbin, Scott Skiles) were guys who weren’t starting on good teams.  Obviously, there are only a limited amount of this type of player but it should be noted that pretty much every young unproven player who was drafted in an expansion draft, made no impact for expansion teams.