I was reading the Wikipedia page of the Cleveland Caveliers.

It stated that former owner Ted Stepien was famous for always trading away the cavs' first round picks. It also stated that because of this the NBA created the "Stepien rule".

Stepien's repeated trades of the team's first overall draft pick led to the NBA creating the "Stepien rule" to prevent such trades.

What does this rule mean exactly? And why does the NBA have a problem with a team trading away all their first round picks?

1 Answer 1


As with almost anything NBA related, the CBA FAQ is a wonderful resource:

Teams are restricted from trading away future first round draft picks in consecutive years. This is known as the "Ted Stepien Rule." Stepien owned the Cavs from 1980-83, and made a series of bad trades (such as the 1982 trade mentioned above) that cost the Cavs several years' first round picks. As a result of Stepien's ineptitude, teams are now prevented from making trades which might leave them without a first round pick in consecutive future years.

(gory details follow if you want to know about how it works in edge cases). As to why, the idea here is that even if a team is rubbish, it will get a high first round draft pick and be able to get better again - unless the team keeps trading away its first round draft pick for mediocre players, in which case it will keep on being rubbish. The NBA likes balance, and the Stepien Rule is a way of ensuring that incompetent management can't completely screw a team over.

  • This seems logical, so it means that an NBA team can't trade away their 2018 and 2019 first round picks but they can trade their 2018,2020,2022 picks?
    – Kev_T
    May 18, 2017 at 8:59
  • Yep, precisely that - and if they wanted, their 2024 pick as well.
    – Philip Kendall
    May 18, 2017 at 10:42
  • One more question though, in the infamous Nets-Celtics trade which involved Pierce and Garnett, the Celtics got the 2014,2016 and 2018 picks from the Nets, but also they had the right to swap the 2017 picks. Wouldn't this mean that the Nets actually traded away 3 first round picks in a row?
    – Kev_T
    May 18, 2017 at 12:30
  • 2
    See the FAQ for full details, but that's OK - so long as they have a first round pick, it's OK; it doesn't have to be their original first round pick.
    – Philip Kendall
    May 18, 2017 at 13:04

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