NBA trade deadline 2023: How the Stepien rule dictates what teams can and can’t move in the first round

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If you feel like the NBA has gone a little overboard when it comes to draft trading lately, well, you probably have a point. last season, I’ve seeded every first-round pick that belongs to a team along with its original owner. At that time, there were 47 of them. Donovan Mitchell’s trade pushed the total past 50, and as the 2023 NBA trade deadline approaches, that number will likely increase.


During a given seven-year period (the maximum period allowed for a draft trade), there are a total of 210 first-round draft picks available. You might see the number 50 and assume that means there are at least 160 on hand, but it’s not that simple. Most of these picks have multi-year protection, which means that a single trade pick can prevent a team from trading its first manager for several years.

This is further complicated by the Stepien Rule, which states that a team must have at least one first-round pick in every other draft going forward. This pick doesn’t have to be theirs, but it should be guaranteed that they’ll be picked from somewhere in every other draft. Combine those two factors and suddenly first round trading becomes very difficult for certain teams. So as the trade deadline approaches, let’s go through all 30 teams and break down who gets to trade and which ones to choose.

Not burdened at all

The following nine teams do not owe one single round pick. They are free to trade their recruiting choices however they see fit.

Minimally overburdened

Each of the next seven teams owes one first-round pick and can therefore trade the other picks fairly comfortably.

  • Boston Celtics: The Celtics sent the Pacers their 2023 first-round pick for protected Malcolm Brogdon 1-12, but the Celtics have the best record in the NBA, so this pick will definitely carry over, and even if it doesn’t, it turns into second-round picks, So there will be no burden for the first-rounders in the future.
  • Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks owe the Knicks his 2023 first-round pick as the final piece of the Kristaps Porzingis deal, and even though he’s protected 1-10 for the next three drafts, Dallas is in position to make the playoffs, so this pick would likely carry that season. That should give Dallas the flexibility to trade multiple picks with the next language allowed, but in all likelihood, the Mavericks will wait until that inopportune time to make a move. Assuming they send their Knicks team of choice in 2023, they’ll be able to offer a full stack of first-round picks, four draft picks and three trades, to another team in exchange for a star pairing with Luka Doncic.
  • Golden State Warriors: The Warriors owe the Grizzlies their 2024 first-round pick that is protected 1-4 thanks to Andre Iguodala trade. It becomes unprotected in 2025, so technically the Warriors can’t move until 2027, but even that scenario gives them two tradeable first-rounders.
  • Houston Rockets: The Rockets technically have first-round picks every season, but it should be noted that those picks aren’t always their own. Their 2024 and 2026 draft picks were headed to Oklahoma City as part of Chris Paul for a Russell Westbrook trade, but they picked a Brooklyn incoming in those drafts because of James Harden’s blockbuster. Their 2025 pick will go to Oklahoma City as well thanks to swap rights, but they’ll end up with Brooklyn’s pick in that draft as well. So technically, the Rockets aren’t at all burdened with the Stepien Rule, but it’s just worth pointing out that they need picks from other teams to get there.
  • Miami Heat: The Heat owes its 2025 protected lottery first-round pick to the Thunder thanks to a cap dump made in the 2019 season. That pick becomes unprotected in 2026, meaning the Heat can’t technically trade the pick until 2028 (Aside from their pick in 2023), but it’s worth noting that Heat and Thunder have already had one. Negotiating a new protection On this check once. If the Heat needs to get to their first manager in 2027 to make a deal, they’ll likely be able to convince the Thunder to pick which they still owe Unprotected in 2025.
  • Sacramento Kings: The Kings owe their selection from the Big 12 Reserves in 2024 to Atlanta as part of a Kevin Huerter trade. That pick currently has protections that last through 2026, but if the Kings need to make it to their 2027 pick, Atlanta would probably be happy to remove the protections offered by the Sacramento pick in 2025. Who wouldn’t want a Kings pick without protection?
  • Utah JazzThe Utah situation is somewhat similar to the Houston situation. The Jazz owe their protected Top 10 pick in 2024 to the Thunder thanks to the 2021 cap being blown, and protection could continue that pick through 2026. That prevents them from trading their own picks in any of those seasons, but other than that, typical Stepien restrictions don’t apply because Utah She has picks from other teams. Utah has three picks to trade in 2023 along with additional picks in 2025 and 2027, so only 2024 through 2026 is affected by which pick you owe to the Thunder.

Reasonably overburdened

The following six teams either owe multiple picks or owe one pick with safeguards complex enough to make dealing elsewhere somewhat difficult.

  • Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks traded three picks to San Antonio for Dejounte Murray, but one of them originally belonged to Charlotte. That makes their outlook somewhat simple: The Hawks can trade their unprotected picks in 2023 and 2029. Their 2025 and 2027 picks are assigned to San Antonio, as is their 2026 pick thanks to swap rights.
  • Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets are owed only one first-round pick, which is their protected lottery option this season. He will go to San Antonio through multiple deals dating back to their move to Kai Jones in 2021. However, that pick is protected by the lottery between now and 2025. Do you expect the Hornets to make the playoffs before then? The Hornets are banned from trading in picks until 2027 unless they remove protection on that outgoing pick, which they would be foolish to do.
  • Detroit Pistons: The Pistons owe only one draft pick, but it’s one of the most complex outbound selections in the NBA. Their 2023 pick belongs to New York, but it’s protected 1-18. That same protection lasts until 2024 before turning to 1-13 in 2025, 1-11 in 2026 and 1-9 in 2027. It’s almost impossible. Predicting when that pick will eventually move, but for now, that means the Pistons can only trade in the 2029 pick. If they wanted to cut protection in the past few years, they could do so quite easily. Pistons will likely not pick the lottery in 2026 or 2027.
  • Los Angeles Lakers: Despite the doom and gloom surrounding the Lakers, they’re actually only down with one first-round draft pick right now (aside from the swap rights they owe New Orleans in 2023 thanks to the Anthony Davis trade). The problem is the unique draft selection language. The Lakers owe the Pelicans their 2024 pick, but the Pelicans have the right to defer that pick until 2025. That means the Lakers can’t trade the pick until 2027, which is where the commonly discussed trade package for picks in 2027 came up. And 2029 comes from.
  • Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers owe only one pick, and their lottery-protected pick 2023 to bullsbut this lottery protection will last until 2027. Their 2029 pick is their first tradeable manager, and given their recent struggles, it’s probably not worth it to remove that protection in order to win now.
  • Washington Wizards: The Wizards owe only one choice, but it’s useless. Dating back John Wall for Russell Westbrook trade, Washington owes its selection in 2023 to the Knicks. This pick is protected 1-14 this season, 1-12 in 2024, 1-10 in 2025 and 1-8 in 2026. The Wizards can’t risk removing the protection on this pick for the sake of flexibility given how poorly they’ve played the past few seasons, so At the moment, all selections before 2028 are blocked.

Heavily overloaded

The next eight teams owe a lot of picks, so it will be very difficult to trade the first rounds at the deadline.

  • Brooklyn NetworksHouston holds the Brooklyn Nationals in the first round until 2027 thanks to a James Harden trade. This means that their only tradeable picks are their own pick in 2029 and Philadelphia is a top eight reserve that owes them Harden’s second trade, which will be transferred two years after Philadelphia fulfills a commitment to Oklahoma City.
  • Chicago Bulls: There may have been whispers about Chicago getting into the tank this season, but with their recent resurgence, the protected 2023 top four pick will almost certainly now go to Orlando to complete the Nikola Vucevic trade. That would allow them to send their 2025 pick to San Antonio in favor of DeMar DeRozan, but there’s a catch. This pick is protected from 1-10 in the first year of maturity and 1-8 in the following two years. This means that the only pick Chicago can definitely trade will be in 2029. Given the aging bulls slate, it’s hard to imagine them removing protections on that pick for a bargain right now.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: Cavaliers can’t trade in one single round. They owe Indiana their pick this season thanks to Caris LeVert’s deal at last year’s deadline, and 2025, 2027, and 2029 (along with a few swaps along the way) are headed to Utah for Donovan Mitchell.
  • Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets owe picks in 2023 (Charlotte), 2025 (Orlando) and 2027 (Oklahoma City), but they still can’t trade their 2029 pick because protections on this Charlotte pick last two years, which in turn could move picks owed to Orlando and Oklahoma City It goes back to 2029. If any team feels comfortable removing protection, it should be the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic never gets injured, so their immediate future is safe.
  • Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers owe all their picks to the Thunder through 2026 thanks to the Paul George trade, so the first pick they can transfer will be 2028.
  • Milwaukee Bucks: An unprotected 2023 Milwaukee pick heads to Houston as the final piece of the PJ Tucker trade, picking 2025 (New York) and 2027 (New Orleans) thanks to the Jrue Holiday deal. The Bucks could trade their first rounder of 2029.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves cannot trade a single first-round pick. Their picks in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 will all go to Utah thanks to a Rudy Gobert trade.
  • Philadelphia Seventy Sixers: The 76ers owe their picks in 2023 (to either Brooklyn or Utah) and 2027 (to Brooklyn) thanks to Harden’s deal this past February, and their 2025 pick goes to Oklahoma City thanks to Al Horford for trading Danny Green in 2020. Protection on these picks could continue until 2029, so the 76ers can’t move a single first-round pick.


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