How Do NBA Expansion Drafts Work?

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The National Basketball Association (NBA) is one of the most popular and successful professional sports leagues in the world, with a rich history dating back to its founding in 1946. It is an American men’s professional basketball league comprising 30 teams, with 29 from the United States and one from Canada.

Over the years, the NBA has expanded its reach and influence, added new teams and markets, and cemented its status as a global sports powerhouse. 

In this article, we take a closer look at the NBA expansion teams, how NBA expansion drafts work, NBA expansion draft rules, and other relevant things about NBA expansion.

Let’s get into it!

How Do NBA Expansion Teams WorkHow Do NBA Expansion Teams Work?

NBA expansion teams are created to meet the demand for basketball in certain cities or states and to generate additional revenue for the league. As populations grow, so does the potential market for basketball.

The process of NBA expansion involves creating a new team and filling its roster with players through an expansion draft. Here is the explanation of NBA expansion draft rules:

Before the draft, existing teams can keep up to eight players from being selected, including restricted free agents.

However, each team must expose at least one player who cannot become a free agent due to an option or ETO exercise, according to NBA’s 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Unrestricted free agents are not protected and cannot be selected, while restricted free agents can be selected but become unrestricted free agents upon selection.

Suppose a team loses a contracted player (excluding a restricted free agent) to an expansion team while being over the cap. In that case, they receive a trade exception equivalent to the selected player’s salary. Existing teams can also compensate expansion teams with draft picks in exchange for selecting or not selecting certain players.

Expansion teams have a lower salary cap for the first two years and often have restrictions on their draft position in their first few seasons. If an expansion team drafts a player and decides to waive him before the start of the season, his salary does not count toward the team’s salary.

How Many NBA Expansion Teams are thereHow Many NBA Expansion Teams are there?

The National Basketball Association has undergone multiple expansions since it commenced in 1946. The most recent one is the addition of the Charlotte Bobcats (now Charlotte Hornets) in 2004.

There have been 11 expansion drafts in NBA history, joined by twenty-two expansion teams. These NBA expansion teams include:

1961 – Chicago Packers (today’s Washington Wizards) 

1966 – Chicago Bulls 

1967 – Seattle Supersonics (today’s OKC Thunder) and San Diego Rockets (today’s Houston Rockets)

1968 – Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks

1970 – Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, and Buffalo Braves (now Los Angeles Clippers),

1974 – New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz) 

1976 – Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, and New York Nets (now Brooklyn Nets)

1980 – Dallas Mavericks 

1988 – Charlotte Hornets (now New Orleans Pelicans) and Miami Heat

1989 – Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves

1995 – Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies (now Memphis Grizzlies)

2004 – Charlotte Bobcats (now Charlotte Hornets)

How Do NBA Expansion Teams Get their PlayersHow Do NBA Expansion Teams Get their Players?

During the draft, the expansion team can choose at least 14 players under contract or restricted free agents. The expansion team can select only one player from each team and can only pick players whom their NBA teams still need to protect.

Each of the 29 teams can protect a maximum of eight players on its roster who are either under contract or are restricted free agents by the end of the season. The teams will designate eligible players for selection by the expansion team. Each team must designate at least one player, even if they have at least eight eligible players.

Players selected by the expansion team will either be immediately placed on their roster if they are under contract or become unrestricted free agents if they are eligible restricted free agents. Unrestricted free agents are not protected and cannot be chosen by the expansion team.

Before the draft, teams can participate in pre-expansion draft trades involving draft picks or players in which the expansion team agrees to select or not select in exchange for certain unprotected players.

The 2004 Summary of Expansion Draft Rules states that the Hornets, as an expansion team, will have 66% of the league’s salary cap, and in the second season, it will be 75%. The expansion team can choose players without considering the salary cap during the expansion draft. If the expansion team selects a restricted free agent in the expansion draft, they can sign the player using the same except their last team would have had.

Suppose a selected player under a contract protected for lack of skill has their contract terminated before the season starts. In that case, the compensation paid to the player will be excluded from the expansion team’s team salary. Suppose a team’s team salary is above the salary cap. In that case, they will receive a trade exception to replace a player (other than a restricted free agent) selected from their unprotected list.

Do Expansion Teams Get the First Overall PickDo Expansion Teams Get the First Overall Pick?

No, expansion teams do not have an automatic right to the first overall pick. The NBA assigns a pick to them, but the draft selection process could be more transparent. The commissioner makes the decision.

The commissioner made these picks for the expansion teams. For example, in the 1995 NBA draft, the Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors were given the sixth and seventh overall picks, respectively. Similarly, the Charlotte Bobcats were given the fourth overall pick in 2004 without participating in the lottery.

However, expansion teams can trade their picks to improve their draft position. In 2004, the Charlotte Bobcats traded their fourth and 33rd overall picks to the Clippers in exchange for the second overall pick, which they used to select Emeka Okafor in the expansion draft.

How Many Players are Protected in NBA Expansion DraftHow Many Players are Protected in NBA Expansion Draft?

One of the primary NBA expansion draft regulations is that each team can safeguard up to eight players on their current roster. These eight players are off-limits to the expansion team, but teams with fewer than eight players under contract must make at least one player available.

The expansion team can choose any player who is not protected. The expansion team can pick at least 14 unprotected players from various NBA teams but only select one player from each existing team.

Teams usually protect their most valuable players, leaving less talented players, veterans with expiring contracts, and overpaid players available for selection by the expansion team.

However, in previous NBA expansion drafts, there have been cases where highly talented players, such as Gerald Wallace, Walt Bellamy, and Rick Mahorn, were selected. 

Will There Ever Be Another NBA Expansion TeamWill There Ever Be Another NBA Expansion Team?

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has been considering potential cities for expansion, but the league has hesitated to dilute the talented players’ concentration. In June 2022, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told reporters there had not been any recent discussion on expansion; if it does, the league will consider several cities.


Due to its rich history with the league, Seattle is a leading contender for NBA expansion. Seattle lost its team in 2008; since then, it has been a top choice for expansion or franchise relocation. However, there are ongoing location disputes between potential arena builders, and the city’s mayor favors rebuilding the existing K-Arena for the National Hockey League team. 

Mexico City

Mexico City is a potential candidate for NBA expansion because of its large population. However, economic challenges and a high crime rate make it an unlikely choice. Some NBA players have expressed hesitancy to play in Canada, and this concern may extend to playing in Mexico.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a strong candidate for NBA expansion, with a new T-Mobile Arena and a history of supporting basketball through the Summer League and local university teams. But the NHL is also moving a team to Las Vegas, so the market may already be occupied when the NBA decides to expand.

Kansas City

Despite its readiness, the NBA and the NHL have yet to take steps to form a franchise in the city. Kansas City has been waiting for a professional team since the opening of the modern Sprint Center in 2003.


Vancouver has shown interest in the expansion of the NBA, losing its Grizzlies franchise in 2001 due to a lack of fan support. However, the city has grown significantly since then, and it now boasts some of the most expensive real estates in the world. Although Vancouver may be a viable candidate for expansion, Portland is the only NBA team left in the region, and it may be challenging to build a fan base with only one other team nearby.


Louisville has a rich college basketball history with the Cardinals, but it may be too small for an NBA team. Despite this, a local adviser in 2017 said he was working to bring an NBA team to Kentucky’s largest city.

Wrapping Things Up: How Do NBA Expansion Rules Work?

The NBA expansion teams are created to meet the demand for basketball in certain cities or states and generate additional revenue for the league. The process of NBA expansion involves creating a new team and filling its roster with players through an expansion draft.

There have been twenty-two NBA expansion teams since its inception in 1946, the most recent being the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004.

The NBA has identified multiple potential candidates for expansion, but the league has yet to make any decisive plans to move forward.

Nonetheless, with the NBA’s continued popularity and growth, we may see expansion teams added to the league in the future.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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