Teams That Can’t Trade First-Round Picks

February 5 at 10:15am CDT By Chuck Myron

The trade deadline is two weeks and one day away, so there are plenty of ideas, proposals, and scenarios being bandied about between teams, reporters and fans alike. Not all of them are feasible. Many run afoul of the league’s salary-matching requirements, but others center on draft picks that teams are unable to convey.

Teams that have already traded their 2014 first-round picks aren’t the only ones that face restrictions. Thanks to the Ted Stepien Rule, a team can’t trade a 2014 first-round draft pick if it would leave the club without future first-rounders in consecutive years. So, a team without a 2015 first-rounder can’t trade its 2014 first-round choice. And if the protections attached to a pick carry through subsequent years, the earliest pick the team can trade would be for two years after the final year the traded pick could possibly be conveyed. So, if a 2014 pick is protected through 2017 and becomes unprotected for 2018, the team that owes the pick can’t deal a first-rounder for any year until 2020.

Teams can’t trade draft picks more than seven drafts in advance. So, this season, teams can trade picks for the 2020 draft, but not for the 2021 draft or any draft after that. A team may conditionally agree to send out a first-round draft pick that would be conveyed two years after its previous draft debt has been paid. As part of the Dwight Howard trade in the summer of 2012, the Lakers agreed to send a first-round pick to the Magic. Because there was a chance their previous obligation to the Suns might not be fulfilled until 2018, that meant Orlando might not have been in line to get its first-round pick until 2020, which was more than seven drafts ahead. The Lakers and Magic got around this by stipulating that instead of a first-round pick, the Lakers would send two second-rounders instead if the Suns didn’t get their first rounder in time.

So, teams this season with draft obligations that extend as late as 2019 or 2020 can trade first-round draft picks, but they can’t guarantee another team that the first-round pick will actually ever come. Another way a team with that sort of obligation can trade a first-rounder is if it acquires a first-round pick from another team. If the team that owes the pick that’s protected through 2017 has another first-round draft choice coming its way for 2014, it’s free to trade that 2014 pick.

Here’s a list of each team that can’t send a guaranteed 2014 first-round draft pick out via trade, with the year of the first such pick it can guarantee via trade in parentheses.

  • Nets (2020): Brooklyn has already traded its 2014, 2016 and 2018 first-rounders.
  • Mavericks (2020): Dallas has only traded a single pick, its 2014 selection, but the protections on it extend through 2017, and the selection becomes unprotected in 2018.
  • Pistons (2018): The pick Detroit owes the Bobcats could go out anytime between 2014 and 2016.
  • Warriors (2019): Golden State owes the Jazz its first-round picks in 2014 and 2017.
  • Pacers (no first-rounder to spare): Indiana has only surrendered a single first-round pick, but the protections on the draft choice it sent to the Suns in the Luis Scola deal run through 2019, and it becomes unprotected in 2020.
  • Clippers (2017): L.A. has its own first-round pick for 2014, but its 2015 first-rounder is ticketed for Boston thanks to the Doc Rivers deal.
  • Lakers (no first-rounder to spare): Like their fellow Staples Center tenants, the Lakers have their own pick this year, but their 2015 and 2017 picks are spoken for. The 2017 pick is protected through 2018, and becomes unprotected in 2019.
  • Grizzlies (no first-rounder to spare): The Grizzlies, too, have this year’s pick, but with their 2015 pick headed to the Cavs, their hands are tied thanks to the protections on the pick, which extend through 2018. It becomes unprotected in 2019.
  • Heat (2019): The 2015 pick Miami owes the Cavs is protected through 2016 and becomes unprotected in 2017.
  • Timberwolves (2018): The protections on the 2014 first-rounder that Minnesota owes the Suns go through 2016, but if it hasn’t been conveyed at that point, it turns into a pair of second-rounders.
  • Pelicans (no first-rounder to spare): The protections on the pick New Orleans sent to the Sixers at last year’s draft run through 2019.
  • Knicks (2018): New York owes its picks in 2014 and 2016.
  • Trail Blazers (2018): The Blazers owe this year’s pick to the Bobcats, but the protections run through next year, and it could become unprotected in 2016.
  • Kings (2019): The protections on this year’s first-rounder, which Sacramento owes to Chicago, run through 2017. If it hasn’t gone to the Bulls by then, it turns into a second-rounder.
  • Wizards (no first-rounder to spare): Washington’s 2014 first-round pick could head to Phoenix anytime between now and 2020. The protections expire in 2019, and it would be unprotected in 2020.

RealGM.com was used in the creation of this post.

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