Trade Restrictions On Future Draft Picks By Team

When trade scenarios are proposed and discussed throughout the season by NBA fans and observers, it’s easy enough to suggest that a team ought to throw in an extra first-round pick or two to sweeten the pot. However, sometimes it’s not quite that simple.

The NBA’s Ted Stepien Rule, named after a former Cavaliers owner who was fond of trading draft picks, prevents teams from trading away future first-round selections in back-to-back years. In other words, a club can’t be without at least one first-round pick (its own or another team’s) in consecutive future seasons. A team can still trade its first-round pick every year if it wants to, but if that club has already dealt away its 2018 first-rounder, it will have to wait until after the ’18 draft to trade its 2019 pick.

In some instances, this rule can be applied fairly easily. For example, the Lakers have traded away their unprotected 2018 pick. That prevents the club from trading its 2019 first-round pick unless it acquires a separate 2018 first-rounder. After the 2018 draft though, those restrictions disappear.

In other cases though, the Stepien Rule creates trickier challenges. For example, like the Lakers, the Rockets have traded away their 2018 pick, but Houston put top-three protection on its selection. That top-three protection extends through 2023 before the pick becomes unprotected in 2024.

It’s almost a certainty that Houston’s first-rounder will simply change hands in 2018, since the club is expected to be one of the NBA’s best and the pick figures to fall in the 20s. But because it’s not a sure thing, the Rockets are only allowed to conditionally trade their 2020 pick — there’s a chance that the 2018 pick could be protected and the 2019 pick would then be the one to change hands, so if Houston sent out its unprotected ’20 first-rounder, the team would be without future first-rounders in back-to-back years. So if the Rockets trade their 2020 pick this season, it must include language that calls for it to be pushed back one year for every year that the 2018 pick is (hypothetically) retained.

Confused? We’re here to help. Below, we’ve detailed whether each of the NBA’s 30 teams have any restrictions facing them during the 2017/18 season if they want to trade a first-round pick. Some teams’ restrictions are more complicated than others, so if you have any questions, jump into the comment section to ask.

Here’s the full breakdown:

Atlantic

  • Boston Celtics: No trade restrictions
    • Owed extra picks in 2018 and 2019.
  • Brooklyn Nets: Can’t trade 2019 pick (2018 pick traded).
    • Owed Raptors’ 2018 pick, but not guaranteed to receive it, since it’s top-14 protected.
  • New York Knicks: No trade restrictions.
  • Philadelphia 76ers: No trade restrictions
    • Owed an extra pick in 2018 or 2019, making them eligible to trade their own picks in both years.
  • Toronto Raptors: Can’t trade 2019 pick (2018 pick traded). Can only trade future picks conditionally (traded 2018 pick is protected through 2023).

Central

  • Chicago Bulls: No trade restrictions.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: Can’t trade 2020 pick (2019 pick traded). Can only trade 2021 pick conditionally (traded 2019 pick is protected through 2020).
    • Owed an extra 2018 pick, making them eligible to trade one of the two.
  • Detroit Pistons: No trade restrictions.
  • Indiana Pacers: No trade restrictions.
  • Milwaukee Bucks: Can’t trade 2019 pick (2018 pick traded). Can only trade 2020, 2021, and 2022 picks conditionally (traded 2018 pick protected until 2021).

Southeast

  • Atlanta Hawks: No trade restrictions
    • Owed extra picks in 2018 and 2019.
  • Charlotte Hornets: No trade restrictions.
  • Miami Heat: Can’t trade 2019, 2020, or 2022 picks (2018 and 2021 picks traded).
  • Orlando Magic: No trade restrictions.
  • Washington Wizards: No trade restrictions.

Northwest

  • Denver Nuggets: No trade restrictions.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: Can’t trade 2019 pick (2018 pick traded). Can only trade 2020 and 2021 picks conditionally (traded 2018 pick is protected through 2020).
    • Owed Thunder’s 2018 pick, but not guaranteed to receive it, since it’s top-14 protected.
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: Can’t trade 2019 pick (2018 pick traded). Can only trade 2020 and 2021 picks conditionally (traded 2018 pick is protected through 2020).
  • Portland Trail Blazers: No trade restrictions.
  • Utah Jazz: No trade restrictions.

Pacific

  • Golden State Warriors: No trade restrictions.
  • Los Angeles Clippers: Can’t trade 2018 or 2020 pick (2019 pick traded). Can only trade 2021 pick conditionally (traded 2019 pick is protected through 2020).
  • Los Angeles Lakers: Can’t trade 2019 pick (2018 pick traded).
  • Phoenix Suns: No trade restrictions
    • Owed extra picks in 2018 and 2021.
  • Sacramento Kings: Can’t trade 2018 or 2020 pick (2019 pick traded).

Southwest

  • Dallas Mavericks: No trade restrictions.
  • Houston Rockets: Can’t trade 2019 pick (2018 pick traded). Can only trade future picks conditionally (traded 2018 pick is protected until 2024).
  • Memphis Grizzlies: Can’t trade 2018 or 2020 pick (2019 pick traded). Can only trade 2021 and 2022 picks conditionally (traded 2019 pick is protected until 2021).
  • New Orleans Pelicans: No trade restrictions.
  • San Antonio Spurs: No trade restrictions.

Information from RealGM was used in the creation of this post.

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4 thoughts on “Trade Restrictions On Future Draft Picks By Team

  1. Great stuff Luke.

    I see my Warriors finally have their own first-round picks coming up. Seems like they’ve been trading them every other year in order to dump unwanted contracts on the Jazz and others. Not that these picks will be very well placed, but picking 30th gives a chance at a little better player than 40th (purchasing second round picks from other teams.)

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    • GuruGray

      Especially considering how great their talent evaluation has been

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      • Off the charts with Jerry West, Bob Myers….. actually ever since Chris Mullin left town (Todd Fuller, Ike Diogu, Patrick Obryant, Michael Pietrus, Mike Dunleavy jr……)

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  2. x%sure

    Protections make trades too complicated. The NBA should go to straight pingpong balls,with every team having at least one, and the worst teams having the most. Every team’s in the lottery, every team gets a slot, and every team can do what they want with their balls, whole or in part. Starting at 10, the next best gettimg 11, etc., comes to about 775 balls.

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