The trade deadline is a month from Monday, and with draft picks always serving as key trade chips, executives are keeping a close eye on whether the protected picks they either owe to, or are owed from, previous transactions will change hands. For instance, the Celtics and the Sixers could each have as many as four first-round picks this year, depending on where other teams finish this season, so Boston and Philly are no doubt monitoring those teams closely to determine what sort of assets they can offer in trade talks. A draft pick can be traded an unlimited number of times, and traded picks often end up traded again.
We’ve been keeping tabs on the different scenarios involving the protections attached to 2016 first-round picks that have already been traded, first examining them in August and again on December 1st. Plenty has changed in the last month and a half, and the likelihood of some outcomes is different than when we last checked.
So, we’ll again break down every scenario here, with an assist from our Round-by-Round Traded Picks Register, which Mark Porcaro compiles, and RealGM’s comprehensive database, as well as our Reverse Standings, which are updated daily. The simple explanation for the likelihood of each pick exchange is in bold, with details to follow:
- Nets to Celtics (unprotected) — 100% certain to happen
- Cavaliers to Suns (top-10 protected) — Overwhelmingly likely to happen: The Cavs lost a tough one to the Spurs last night, and a relatively slim eight-game margin separates Cleveland from the ninth-place Celtics in the Eastern Conference, but let’s not kid ourselves; the Cavs will make the playoffs and this pick is going to Phoenix.
- Mavericks to Celtics (top-7 protected) — Likely to happen: The Mavericks, at 22-18, have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, and while enough season remains and enough firepower exists in the Western Conference to conceivably knock them out of the playoffs, it looks like they’re going to the postseason and giving up their pick.
- Heat to Warriors (Golden State gets Miami’s pick if it falls outside the top 10 and comes after Golden State’s pick and Oklahoma City’s pick) — Unlikely to happen: A complicated set of scenarios surround this exchange, but essentially, the Heat would have to finish with a better record than the Warriors as well as the Thunder. Miami is five and a half games behind Oklahoma City and the Warriors are virtually untouchable, so this scenario is a long shot at best.
- Heat to Sixers (Philadelphia gets Miami’s pick if it falls outside the top 10 and comes before either Golden State’s pick or Oklahoma City’s pick) — Toss up (flipped from likely to happen last time): This would-be swap is a corollary to the long-shot Heat/Warriors possibility described above. Assuming that above scenario doesn’t happen, Miami’s pick is going to Philly if the Heat make the playoffs. Miami seems like a strong bet for the postseason, but with only two games separating them from ninth-place Boston, that’s no certainty.
- Thunder to Warriors (Golden State gets Oklahoma City’s pick if it falls outside the top 15 and comes after Miami’s pick and Golden State’s pick) — Unlikely to happen: This is another one related to the Heat/Warriors exchange above. The Thunder would have to catch the Warriors for that to happen, and Golden State has a nine-game lead on Oklahoma City.
- Thunder to Sixers (Philadelphia gets Miami’s pick if it falls outside the top 15 and comes before either Golden State’s pick or Oklahoma City’s pick) — Likely to happen: If the Thunder don’t send their pick to the Warriors, and it seems they won’t, they’re probably sending the pick to Philly. Oklahoma City, at 28-12, would have to miss the playoffs — or make the playoffs with the worst record among postseason teams — to keep the pick.
- Warriors to Sixers (Philadelphia gets Golden State’s pick if it comes before either Miami’s pick or Oklahoma City’s pick, as long as Miami’s pick falls outside the top 10 and Oklahoma City’s pick falls outside the top 15) — Unlikely to happen: The final of this string of five possible outcomes depends on whether the Thunder or the Heat can catch the Warriors. It doesn’t seem anyone can, so this pick probably stays put.
- Rockets to Nuggets (top-14 protected) — Likely to happen (flipped from toss-up last time): This pick comes down to whether or not Houston makes the playoffs, and while the team’s four and a half game lead on ninth-place is by no means safe, it’s large enough, and the Rockets are talented enough, to move this into the likely category.
- Lakers to Sixers (top-3 protected) — Toss-up: The Lakers are three and a half games worse than the Timberwolves, who are in the No. 4 spot in the lottery, but, ironically, the team that finishes with the second-worst record in the league has a better chance of picking at No. 4 than the team that finishes with the fourth-worst record. All that is to say that the fate of this pick will probably be determined on the night of the lottery.
- Grizzlies to Nuggets (Denver gets the Memphis pick if it falls anywhere from No. 6 to No. 14) — Unlikely to happen: This one is quite similar to the Rockets-to-Nuggets exchange. Memphis, thanks to its win Thursday against the Pistons, has a five-game lead over the Trail Blazers and Kings, who are in a virtual tie for ninth in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies should hold on to a playoff spot, but they’re not quite shoo-ins.
- Timberwolves to Celtics (top-12 protected) — Unlikely to happen (flipped from toss-up last time): The Wolves were just a game below .500 when we last looked at these scenarios, but they’re 12-28 now. They could always make a surge, and they’re only seven and a half games behind Washington, the 12th-worst team in the league, but this pick is unlikely to end up in Boston.
- Knicks to Nuggets (Denver gets the better pick of its own and New York’s) —Toss-up: The Knicks have the edge to finish with a superior record, which would mean their pick wouldn’t be going to Denver, but they’re only ahead by three in the loss column, so we can’t make any conclusions yet.
- Knicks to Raptors (Toronto gets New York’s pick if it comes after Denver’s pick) —Toss-up: The Raptors will end up with whichever pick the Nuggets don’t take in the pick swap described immediately above, so with little separation between Denver and New York, this one is just as hard to call.
- Nuggets to Raptors (Toronto gets the Denver’s pick if it comes after New York’s pick) — Toss-up: See the explanation for the last two picks.
- Trail Blazers to Nuggets (top-14 protected) — Toss-up (Flipped from unlikely to happen last time): Few have noticed, but Terry Stotts is delivering one of the best coaching performances in the NBA this season, leading a team that didn’t sign any of its own free agents into a virtual tie with the Kings for ninth place in the Western Conference, just one game behind the Jazz for the last playoff spot. Thus, it’s too early to tell about this pick, which depends on whether the Blazers make the playoffs.
- Kings to Bulls (top-10 protected) — Toss-up: Sacramento is right there for a playoff spot, virtually tied with the Trail Blazers and one game behind eighth-place Utah, but the Kings nonetheless have the ninth-worst record in the league, and if the pick ends up at No. 9, Chicago doesn’t get it. It’s tough to tell how this will turn out.
- Kings to Sixers (Philadelphia gets the better of Sacramento’s pick and its own if Sacramento’s pick falls inside the top 10) — Unlikely to happen: The Sixers are playing better since hiring Jerry Colangelo, but they’re 13 games behind the Kings. They’d have to at least make a significant bite into that gap if this scenario were to become remotely likely. Still, the Kings could always beat the odds and win a top-three pick in the lottery, triggering this swap, so we don’t know for sure about this one.
- Sixers to Kings (Sacramento gets the inferior of its own pick and Philadelphia’s pick if its own pick falls inside the top 10) — Unlikely to happen: Since Philadelphia probably doesn’t end up with Sacramento’s pick, the Sixers probably won’t be sending their pick to the Kings.
We looked at traded 2016 second-round pick exchange scenarios last month.