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NBA expansion draft rules explained

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It’s been almost two decades since the last NBA expansion draft. Basketball fans need to take a look at the NBA expansion draft rules explained to get a refresher on the rules of this special draft.

NBA expansion draft rules explained

There are 30 teams currently in the league. The NBA is an ever-growing business and will inevitably expand at some point in the future. More and more billionaires are willing to start their own team or franchise in their own cities.

There are no talks for an expansion team right now as per Adam Silver. But when the league finally decides to expand, there will be an expansion draft to fill the roster with players. This is a special kind of draft that selects current players on existing NBA teams.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the NBA expansion draft rules explained…

How do NBA expansion teams work?

NBA expansion teams are formed to satisfy the demand of a huge basketball fan base in a state or city. Expanding to new markets also means more revenue for the league. As the population grows, so does the market for basketball.


Cities with large populations with no basketball team are generally regarded to be the best candidates for a basketball expansion. Seattle, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, and Louisville are some of the best cities for NBA expansion.

Once the league decides to expand to other cities, there will be an expansion draft to fill the roster with players. The expansion team is allowed to select unprotected current players and is given a draft pick in the upcoming NBA draft. We’ll discuss more of these in detail in the following sections.

How many players can teams protect in an expansion draft?

One of the main NBA expansion draft rules states that teams are allowed to protect eight players on their roster. These protected players are untouchable and can’t be selected by the expansion team. Teams that have less than eight players under contract must make at least one player available.

Any player left unprotected can be selected. The expansion team is then given the chance to select a minimum of 14 unprotected players from different NBA teams. However, the expansion team can only select one unprotected player from each existing team.

Of course, teams will protect their most valuable players. This leaves the expansion draft full of less talented players and veterans with expiring contracts. Overpaid players are also made available so they can offload their contracts to the expansion team.


However, this is not always the case. Gerald Wallace, Walt Bellamy, and Rick Mahorn are some of the best names selected in previous NBA expansion drafts.

Still, most expansion teams struggle in their first few seasons. They face a huge disadvantage against teams that have already built a cohesive roster over the years. It will take years before an expansion team becomes successful.

Do expansion teams get the first overall pick?

Expansion teams do not automatically get the first overall pick. Instead, the NBA assigns a pick to them. It’s unclear how the league determines the draft selection for the expansion team. The commissioner just assigns them.

For instance, the Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors were given the sixth and seventh overall pick respectively in 1995. Meanwhile, the Charlotte Bobcats were given the fourth overall pick in 2004. These teams didn’t participate in the lottery. Rather, they were given picks by the commissioner.

Of course, expansion teams can trade their picks to move up the board. This is what the Bobcats did in the 2004 NBA draft. They traded their fourth and 33rd overall picks in exchange for the second overall pick and selected Emeka Okafor in the expansion draft from the Clippers.

Who was the last NBA expansion team?

The last NBA expansion team was the Charlotte Bobcats (currently the Charlotte Hornets) in 2004. They selected 19 players from existing teams’ unprotected players list.

Here are the players that they selected in the 2004 NBA expansion draft:

How many expansion teams are there since the NBA started?

There have been a total of 11 expansion drafts in NBA history. 22 expansion teams have formed and participated in these drafts. These teams are:

  • 1961 – Chicago Packers (now Washington Wizards)
  • 1966 – Chicago Bulls
  • 1967 – San Diego Rockets (now Houston Rockets), Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder)
  • 1968 – Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns
  • 1970 – Buffalo Braves (now Los Angeles Clippers), Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers
  • 1974 – New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz)
  • 1976 – Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets (now Brooklyn Nets), San Antonio Spurs
  • 1980 – Dallas Mavericks
  • 1988 – Charlotte Hornets (now New Orleans Pelicans), Miami Heat
  • 1989 – Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic
  • 1995 – Toronto Raptors, Vancouver Grizzlies (now Memphis Grizzlies)
  • 2004 – Charlotte Bobcats (now Charlotte Hornets)

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