Win or lose, the 2017-18 Las Vegas Golden Knights season feels like a made-for-Hollywood story.
In a city where ice is more readily associated with drinks or jewelry than athletic competition, a hodgepodge of castoffs, willingly relinquished by their employers, vaulted itself to the top of the NHL its inaugural season. The team embodies sports egalitarianism — parity, if you will — in a way that inspires fanbases, seduces outsiders, and plays into widespread ideals about what makes sport appealing.
It’s also a distinctly hockey story. Something like this could never happen — and has never happened — in any other league. But exactly how far away from contention would a first-year franchise be in, say, the NBA, which has also mulled adding more teams?
As a thought exercise, I called on some friends — er, I mean, renowned NBA experts — to create new franchises under expansion rules comparable to the NHL’s.
Per the most recent expansion draft, teams were allowed to protect nine of their 23 players — eight skaters plus a goaltender.
(Teams also had the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. But for simplicity’s sake, and because positions are less clearly defined in the NBA, we’ll say teams can protect five of their 14 players.)
Because I’m naturally the most qualified to do so, I took the liberty of picking the five each team would protect for our experts’ hypothetical expansion draft.
Here were the results:
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CG: The “Digglers,” Ethan?
CB: Is that a Boogie Nights reference?
EJ: The Digglers’ ownership group saw an opportunity to invest in an area that has encountered recent socioeconomic decline. Our vision is to bring entertainment, excitement, and fun back to the delta region for locals, natives, and tourists alike — all while featuring the rich cultural history, exquisite cuisine, and music. We see the “Delta Dome” as the first in our development of a new “Downtown Delta” city center. We hope to provide positive socioeconomic development as partners within current delta establishments, without losing the flavor and authenticity the delta region is known for.
CG: Thanks for the sales pitch.
CB: By the way, my franchise might move to another city overnight, in the dark of night. Like Art Modell.
CG: I can’t help but feel like this draft was a referendum on [10-time All-Star] Carmelo Anthony. Which player was the hardest for you to leave off? Pat Beverley, for me.
RV: Milos Teodosic
EJ: P.J. Tucker
CB: Shaun Livingston, because I don’t know if Tony Parker can play basketball anymore.
Anything you’d like to address about your rosters?
RV: Utah Jazz Rodney Hood, to be clear.
CB: This could either go really well or really badly.
CG: We created an IR spot for Derrick Rose. If we somehow make the playoffs, he’ll become our leading scorer. If we don’t, he might literally up and vanish midseason. Which is fine.
EJ: We really get it out the mud, if you will.
How many games do you think your team wins?
(11 teams won at least 48 games this season.)
Who has the best team?
RV: Chase’s ceiling is the highest. But a lot can go wrong.
CB: I think it’s mine.
EJ: Rob’s, but I’m just disappointed no one else saw Lance [Stephenson] as low-hanging fruit.
CG: See Rob’s response.
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To directly address the titular question: No, of course a Las Vegas Golden Knights-like run could never happen in the NBA. Individual stars matter too much, and the nature of the sports lends itself less to chance over time. And nothing here would topple LeBron James in the East, much less the Oakland-based hydra out West. At least, not in year one.
That said, a story like the Golden Knights’ is enough to draw in crossover NBA fans, who are more than happy to appreciate how special and unprecedented their season has been — just from a comfortable distance.