Over the years, pick protection has played a significant role in explaining some of the league’s surprising developments, particularly towards the very end of the season. Whether due to increased valuation of picks or the strength of this draft class, as we head toward the end of the regular season, there are very few complicated obligations that affect the 2017 NBA Draft.
That said, some of the few remaining are absolutely fascinating and could have a massive effect on the long-term future of a few franchises. Now is a good time to take a look back at the obligations that will affect teams.
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RealGM’s excellent pick protection page is both a critical resource and an excellent foundation for going though the existing protections that could shape the 2016-17 season, listed in order of importance.
NBA Draft 2017: Pick protection
LA Lakers — Retain their first-rounder if 1-3 (otherwise it goes to Philadelphia): We are now in the final season of this being a protected pick, but there is an additional impact since it has taken so long. This choice went to Phoenix for Steve Nash and the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard less than a month later, but they could not move another first-rounder until that obligation resolved. As it turns out, that means if the Lakers retain this selection for another year, they do not have to send a first to Orlando and instead give the Magic their 2017 and 2018 second-round choices. If the Lakers lose their pick this season, they must send their 2019 first-rounder to Orlando unprotected.
New Orleans — Retain their first rounder if 1-3 (otherwise it goes to Sacramento): This trade deadline’s biggest transaction sent DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans, and one of the pieces New Orleans included was their own first-round selection with top-three protection. New Orleans won't end the season with one of the three worst records, but some good lottery luck could still be a possibility. If the Pelicans retain the pick this year, it has top-one protection from 2018 to 2020 and then would be unprotected in 2021.
Sacramento — Retain their first rounder if 1-10 (otherwise it goes to Chicago): After retaining their choice last season, the rubber really meets the road in 2016-17 because keeping it again means the Kings send their second-round choice to Chicago instead. This pick originally went to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson in 2011, and Cleveland sent it to Chicago for Luol Deng in 2014.
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Dallas — Retain their first rounder if 1-18 (otherwise it goes to Philadelphia): The Mavericks traded for center Nerlens Noel at the 2017 deadline and acquired this choice along with Justin Anderson. With Dallas eliminated from playoff contention, the Mavs keep their first-round pick and send 2017 and 2020 second-round picks to the Sixers.
Memphis — Retain their first rounder if 1-5 (otherwise it goes to Portland via Cleveland and Denver): Back in 2013, the Grizzlies dumped salary in a trade that included Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington. That pick eventually made its way to Denver in the Timofey Mozgov deal and has outlived its double-sided protection, so now it is a more conventional 1-5 structure. At the 2017 trade deadline, the choice moved again as Denver combined it with Jusuf Nurkic to acquire center Mason Plumlee. The Grizzlies are a playoff team, so this pick will convey. The Grizzlies sending their pick to Portland this season also starts the clock on their eventual obligation to Boston from their 2015 trade for Jeff Green.
LA Clippers — Retain their first rounder if 1-14 (otherwise it goes to Orlando/Toronto via Milwaukee and Toronto): Straight forward lottery protection. The Clippers are in the playoffs, so their choice goes to the Magic after sending it to Milwaukee alongside Jared Dudley in a 2014 salary dump. Straight lottery protection does not alter a team’s decision-making since a playoff berth typically has much more significance.
Washington — Retain their first rounder if 1-14 (otherwise it goes to Brooklyn): Another 2017 deadline move involved Brooklyn sending Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough to the Wizards for Andrew Nicholson’s onerous contract, Marcus Thornton and this selection. With Washington making the playoffs, it will convey this season.
This season’s swaps and unprotected picks:
Brooklyn — Boston has the right to swap picks as a part of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade made in 2013. If the Celtics (presumably) execute the swap, Brooklyn gets Boston's 2017 second-round pick.
Sacramento — If the Kings’ pick ends up in the top 10 so they do not send it to Chicago, Philadelphia has the right to swap selections as part of the blockbuster trade the Sixers made July 1, 2015. Functionally, this means Philadelphia takes some of Sacramento’s lottery balls.
Houston — The Lakers have Houston’s first-rounder unprotected as a part of the Lou Williams trade consummated at the 2017 deadline.
Cleveland — After modifying their agreement with Portland as a part of the trade to acquire Kyle Korver in January, the Trail Blazers now have the Cavs’ first-round pick unprotected in 2017. Portland originally acquired a protected first from Cleveland at the 2016 deadline as compensation for taking on Anderson Varejão’s salary.
Golden State — The Warriors send their pick to Utah unprotected to complete the first-round pick portion of their obligation from the 2013 salary dump which allowed them to sign Andre Iguodala. Golden State still owes second-round picks in 2017 and 2018.