NBA Teams Most Likely to Trade Their 1st-Round Draft Pick
Draft pick information is accurate as of Wednesday, May 23. Some teams presented aren’t actually eligible to trade their selection, due to the Stepien Rule that prohibits franchises from going consecutive years without a first-rounder. In these situations, though, the assumption will be they move the actual player drafted at said spot, which is permitted. And finally, teams are presented in order of increasing likelihood that they’ll move their selection.
8. Washington Wizards
Picks: No. 15
Cost controlled assets are of the utmost importance to the Washington Wizards. They’re projected to fall in the luxury tax next season, and they cannot afford to dole out major dollars to free agents as a result.
Things are only going to get worse, too. John Wall’s extension kicks in after next season, at which time they’ll owe more than $90 million per year to the combination of him, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. And that starts when Kelly Oubre Jr. enters restricted free agency.
Dealing this pick, then, would seem like a major no-no. And perhaps it is. But this summer may be the Wizards’ last to duck the tax for quite some time. Though they could stretch some expiring deals or move a more digestible contract, greasing the wheels of a Ian Mahinmi salary dump with this selection could prove uniquely valuable as they prepare to float the collective cap hits of their Big Three. It’s either that, or they’ll have to consider breaking up the Big Three itself.
7. Los Angeles Clippers
Picks: No. 12, No. 13
Where are the Los Angeles Clippers going? No one quite knows.
Trading Blake Griffin this past January to the Detroit Pistons suggested they were gearing up for a rebuild. But they have since extended Lou Williams, held onto DeAndre Jordan (for now) and handed a new contract veteran head coach Doc Rivers. Those moves do not have the look and feel of a squad preparing to start over.
Granted, the Clippers could change course on a whim. Jordan and Avery Bradley are free agents this summer, and they’ll have no trouble moving Williams when his trade restriction lifts in August.
Either way, they will consider shipping out one or both of these selections. Offering two picks to move up in the order will be appealing to them no matter what they are trying to do next season, and in the event they’re chasing a playoff berth, packaging these two prospects together is their best chance of joining the bidding war for whatever marquee names hit the chopping block.
6. Atlanta Hawks
Picks: No. 3, No. 19, No. 30
The Atlanta Hawks are rebuilding. That’s not up for debate. General manager Travis Schlenk has said as much. He’s even publicly outlined how the Hawks will look to sponge up bad salary in exchange for picks and prospects as they continue to develop their youth. That’s not something you do if you’re not adhering to a from-scratch timeline.
Flipping draft picks is atypical practice for transitioning squads, but the Hawks are in a unique situation. They don’t need three first-round selections. And it’s really four choices when you consider they also own the No. 32 pick in the draft.
Even with plenty of roster space, consolidating these picks into a higher spot on the draft-day totem pole will call to them. Look for them to be at the center of many last-minute rumors. They would even rank higher than this if not for the fact we have to assume they won’t dump first-round picks and take on bad salary in the same transaction.
5. Boston Celtics
Picks: No. 27
In somewhat of a weird twist, the Boston Celtics may be forced to trade their first-round pick. They could have as many as 15 players under contract for next season if they retain Marcus Smart (restricted), Aron Baynes (unrestricted) and Shane Larkin (unrestricted). That doesn’t give them room to take on another body.
Drafting and stashing a prospect is always an option. And truth be told, there’s a good chance at least one of Baynes and Larkin isn’t back next year. That could allow the Celtics one open spot. But that eats up any wiggle room they have in free agency, and they also need to consider they could have as many as three first-rounders in 2019; they control their own and may have rights on both the Clippers’ and Memphis Grizzlies’ selections.
Basically, the Celtics don’t have a ton of body-count flexibility. They’ll need to consolidate that some point. Will that be this summer, with Kawhi Leonard expected to be available? Or will it be next summer, when players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis could reach the trade market? We can’t be sure. We do, however, know that team president Danny Ainge is an opportunist. He’ll be more than open to moving the No. 27 selection.
4. Los Angeles Lakers
Picks: No. 25
Arguments can be made from all types of vantage points for the Los Angeles Lakers. They could rank higher on this scale. They could rank lower. They could be just right. That’s how fluid their big picture is at the moment.
Two scenarios stand out above all else when talking about the availability of their No. 25 pick, which came over as part of their trade-deadline agreement with the Cleveland Cavaliers: First and foremost, they could look to use it as a sweetener to dump the final two years and $38.6 million left on Luol Deng’s contract. This selection alone won’t be enough, but the Lakers won’t be opposed to including more additives if the flexibility they gain by shedding Deng opens the door for them to sign both LeBron James and Paul George or even two other stars in free agency.
More likely, though, the Lakers may just want to build a trade proposal for a star. They have the prospects and financial wiggle room to join the Kawhi Leonard fray; all that’s missing is the first-round pick. And since their future commitments are murky, dangling this selection as part of a larger package would arm them with a little extra pizzazz.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Picks: No. 10, No. 26
The Philadelphia 76ers are expected to be major players on the free-agency front. Chief among their anticipated targets: LeBron James and Paul George, assuming both decline their player options.
But the Sixers cannot afford either one of them outright without making other moves on the margins. They need to dump almost $10 million in salary to afford James’ max and roughly $5 million to bankroll George’s starting cost.
Jettisoning Jerryd Bayless’ $8.6 million expiring contract is the most efficient path to carving out the necessary cap room. And either one of the Sixers’ picks profile as the perfect sweetener to getting that deal done. Baiting rival teams with the No. 10 selection would be a little extreme, but the No. 26 pick, plus maybe one of their cost-controlled prospects, should absolutely be in play.
If something does happen, bank on it going down sometime after the draft itself, when both these picks have turned into players. The Sixers have no way of knowing whether George or James will be open to joining their cause before July. So don’t be alarmed if they stand pat longer than some other first-rounder-pick sellers.
2. Portland Trail Blazers
Picks: No. 24
Similar to the Wizards, the Portland Trails are another team stuck in NBA purgatory. They rank as a middle-of-the-road competitor, borderline fringe contender, yet have a payroll that’s about to creep into the luxury tax.
Their situation is even more dire than the Wizards’ dilemma. The Blazers could effortlessly blow past $140 million in salary obligations if they re-sign all of Ed Davis (unrestricted), Jusuf Nurkic (restricted) and Shabazz Napier (restricted). That kind of bottom line is untenable following a first-round sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans.
It’s also a primary reason for the Blazers to keep this pick. They could try drafting a big so they don’t have to re-sign Davis or Nurkic, and the iea of a cost-controlled asset is just generally intriguing.
Still, even if we assume Napier is expendable on account of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum already being in the backcourt, the Blazers don’t have the proven frontcourt depth to ditch both Nurkic and Davis. And while they can try replacing one at No. 24, the inbound newbie is unlikely to make a huge impact right away.
Figuring out a way to duck the $123 million luxury-tax threshold offers more certainty. The problem is the Blazers don’t have the requisite enticing assets to get significant cost-cutting done. They need to move the final two years of Evan Turner’s or Meyers Leonard’s pact to make a dent in their total expenses, and neither one of them is going anywhere without this first-rounder being attached as a buffer. It might even take some other stuff, in addition to the pick, to pawn them off.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Picks: No. 8
This could technically be an ambitious placement for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Losing LeBron James to another team in free agency would send them into a protracted rebuild and render this entire discussion moot. They would not trade a top-10 pick, a potential building block, when they’re not contending for a title.
If LeBron agrees to re-sign with them over the summer, though, forget about it. This pick as good as gone. They might be able to get a nice player—someone like Michael Porter Jr. or Mikal Bridges. But whoever they land wouldn’t be on anything remotely close to LeBron’s win-now timeline.
Combining this selection with one of their sizable role-player salaries—think J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson and George Hill—could put them in play to land an A-lister who shores up their NBA Finals odds in advance of 2018-19. Trading for Kawhi Leonard is probably out of reach, assuming he’s even available, but other prospective trade candidates like Kemba Walker, CJ McCollum and Bradley Beal would all seem to be right up their alley.
As always, watch the Cavaliers like a hawk. Something big is going to happen this summer, and there’s a good chance it entails the relocation of this here draft pick.
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