The currency of the 2017 NBA trade deadline is draft picks. Specifically, 2017 first round draft picks. The three trades that went down in the past week all involved dealing a first round pick in the upcoming draft: Toronto’s acquisition of Serge Ibaka, the DeMarcus Cousins heist, and Houston’s trade for Lou Williams. Teams like Denver and Brooklyn are reportedly shopping for picks in this year’s draft as well.
Oklahoma City is not currently able to deal its 2017 first round pick, and that might hamper its efforts to pull off a major deal by the deadline. Teams cannot go consecutive future drafts without a first round pick. The Thunder’s 2018 pick conditionally belongs to Utah via the 2015 trade for Enes Kanter.
However, that doesn’t mean the Thunder will be forced to keep its 2017 selection. It can be traded at the draft immediately after the selection is made. Oklahoma City could also deal its 2017 first rounder if it acquired an additional 2017 pick, or one in 2018. The Thunder might be more likely to make a bigger move at the draft.
How did the Thunder wind up in this spot? They were buyers in previous trade deadlines, much like the Rockets and Raptors are now. The reality is that the Thunder are in a different place than those teams at the moment.
For fun, I had a look around the league to see which teams were unable to trade 2017 first round picks and why.
Brooklyn – The Nets are still paying for the blockbuster trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce of 2013. The Boston Celtics have the right to swap positions with the Nets in 2017, and Brooklyn also owes an unprotected 2018 first rounder to the Celtics as well.
Cleveland – The Cavs originally traded a 2018 first round pick to Portland in exchange for the Blazers absorbing the nearly $15 million left on his contract. The move was made in part so Cleveland could acquire Channing Frye from Orlando. Earlier this year, the Blazers and Cavs amended the trade so that Cleveland now owes a 2017 first round pick to Portland instead.
Golden State – In 2013, the Warriors traded a pair of future first round picks and a pair of future second round picks to Utah in order to dump the salaries of Andris Beidrins, Richard Jefferson, and Brandon Rush. Golden State got Andre Iguodala in the trade. The 2014 first round pick became Rodney Hood. The 2017 first rounder will complete the deal. I’d say that worked out OK for the Warriors.
Houston – late Tuesday evening, the Rockets acquired Lou Williams from the Lakers in exchange for Corey Brewer and a 2017 first round pick, which will likely land around #27 in the draft.
LA Clippers – there have been worse trades in NBA history, but one made by the Clippers is underratedly bad. The Clippers triggered a hard salary cap by signing Spencer Hawes with the non-taxpayer Mid-Level Exception. Faced with a roster crunch, the Clippers traded disappointing (at the time) forward Jared Dudley and a 2017 first to the Bucks for Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica, and a 2015 second round pick. The only reason for acquiring Delfino and Raduljica was to waive them and create a bit of breathing room under the hard cap. All this for Spencer Hawes.
Memphis – speaking of cap-driven trades, the Grizzlies traded its 2017 first rounder to Cleveland back in 2013 in order to duck the luxury tax. Memphis sent Mo Speights, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Selby with the pick to the Cavs for Jon Leuer.
Miami – the Heat owns its 2017 first round pick, but its 2018 first round pick belongs to Phoenix via the Goran Dragic trade of 2014.
Minnesota – The Wolves owe a conditional first round pick in 2018 to Atlanta from a 2015 trade for little-used center Adreiane Payne. The former Michigan State Spartan has appeared in only 12 games this season for Minnesota, averaging 4.0 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
New Orleans – as mentioned above, the Kings now owns the Pelicans’ first rounder in 2017 via the giant WTF trade of DeMarcus Cousins.