It is hard, in the NBA, to bring in a significant new player at the trade deadline without draft picks. Every team covets first-rounders and for the Lakers, that’s difficult—they simply do not have many first-rounders they can trade.
In fact, they’re running short on second-rounders, too.
But it’s the first-round picks that are most valuable, and they can be tricky to include in trades because of what is known as the “Stepien Rule,” which prevents teams from trading first-round picks in back-to-back years. The rule gets its name from Ted Stepien, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1980-83, who bankrupted his team’s future by dealing away first-round picks in ill-advised trades for so-so veterans.
The rule can be circumvented, as the Lakers did last year by holding the pick until draft night, making the pick on another team’s behalf, and trading it (as part of the Danny Green-Dennis Schroder deal). But that can only be done at the time of the draft—those arrangements can’t be made years in advance.
Thus, the Lakers hold their own pick in the 2022 draft, but can’t trade it because they already owe New Orleans their 2021 pick.
Evaluating the Lakers’ Future 1st-Round Draft Picks
It is worthwhile at this time of year to take a full accounting of where the draft picks stand going into the future. Let’s start with first-rounders (courtesy of Real GM):
2021, OWED TO NEW ORLEANS. This is one of the three first-rounders, plus a swap, the Lakers sent to the Pelicans for Anthony Davis.
2022, LAKERS OWN. The Lakers are slated to make this pick on their own, and it can’t be traded because the Lakers are already without a first-round pick in 2021.
2023, SWAP ELIGIBLE. The Lakers do have a pick in this draft, but New Orleans has the option of swapping its pick with the Lakers’ pick. This pick can’t be traded
2024, OWED TO NEW ORLEANS. This is the last obligation the Lakers have to the Pelicans for the Davis trade. The Pelicans have the right to push this pick back to 2025.
2025, LAKERS OWN. The Lakers can’t trade this pick because they’re without a pick in 2024.
2026, LAKERS OWN. Chronologically, this is the first pick the Lakers can trade, but they would have to make it a conditional pick, bumped back to 2027 if the Pelicans decide to take the Lakers’ 2025 pick instead of 2024.
2027, LAKERS OWN. Seven years is the limit on trading future draft picks, so this is the last pick the Lakers can trade.
That makes it pretty clear what the Lakers’ problem in pulling off a deal is: The only pick they can trade is five years from now.
Evaluating the Lakers’ Future 2nd-Round Draft Picks
When it comes to second-round picks, the Lakers do have more of those available—and the Stepien rule does not apply. Of course, teams don’t value second-rounders nearly as much and the Lakers have already sent away their second-rounders for the next two drafts.
Here’s how that shapes up:
2021, OWED TO SACRAMENTO. This pick was first sent to Detroit in 2019 as part of the trade for Reggie Bullock.
2022, OWED TO WASHINGTON OR CHICAGO. This pick has been bounced around, but it was originally part of the Davis trade with New Orleans.
2023, LAKERS OWN. This is the first second-rounder the Lakers can trade away.
2024, LAKERS OWN.
2025, LAKERS OWN.
2026, OWED TO CLEVELAND. This was sent to the Cavs as part of the trade that cleared JaVale McGee off the Lakers’ books.
2027, LAKERS OWN. This is the last second-round pick the Lakers can trade.
Entering next week’s deadline, then, the Lakers have only two first-rounders, in 2026 and 27, available for trade as well as four second-rounders, from 2023-25, plus 2027. The very limited draft capital on hand is part of the reason the Lakers are likely to wait and make a move in the buyout market after the deadline.