NBA Draft trade rights, explained: Why the Lakers, Trail Blazers will make selections for other teams

The NBA Draft’s pick-trading rules result in one of the quirkier draft-night rituals: Players whose draft rights are involved in trades often end up wearing the wrong hat.

Because of moratorium periods on sign-and-trade deals, along with rules restricting how often first-round picks can be traded, teams often already have deals agreed upon and reported before they can actually be officially executed. That leads to teams selecting players that are requested by other teams for them to be officially moved following the conclusion of the draft. In 2020, that’s the case with at least the Lakers (reportedly picking for the Thunder) and the Trail Blazers (reportedly picking for the Rockets).

Any deals that are agreed to during the draft will work the same way. If the Warriors trade the No. 2 pick while on the clock, whoever is taken there will still technically be a Golden State draftee even though the Twitter-verse will be well aware that player is going elsewhere. It’s also unclear at this time when Milwaukee’s trade for Jrue Holiday will be executed, so the specifics of that situation aren’t outlined below. If the draft shows the Bucks picking at No. 24 and not the Pelicans, the rules below are why.

If you’re already confused, hopefully the breakdown below of how picks can be traded without actually being traded yet helps you understand the bizarre workings of NBA Draft night.

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What are draft rights in the NBA?

Draft rights give an NBA team the exclusive right to negotiate with and sign its draft pick for a year for any player who is a non-early entry to the draft, according to Article X of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. 

Without draft rights, college players could essentially become immediate free agents and spurn whichever team took them in the draft. These rights protect competitive balance. As long as a team tenders a contract to their drafted player (which essentially always happens), the rights last for a year and players basically always sign their rookie-scale contract. 

There’s really no leverage for a drafted player, because if he doesn’t sign his tendered contract, he’s returned to the following season’s draft pool. There’s still too much out of a player’s control to sit out a year only to return to the same uncertain draft process again.

If you were paying attention, you noticed that the above year-long timeline applies to a non-early entrant to the draft. For any early entrant, their draft rights are held until a year after the first NBA Draft that player could’ve entered as a non-early entry candidate. For college freshmen like Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman in the 2020 NBA Draft, that means the team that takes them would hold their draft rights (barring a trade) through 2024. 

Why will the Lakers pick for the Thunder?

The Lakers agreed in acquiring Dennis Schroeder from the Thunder that they’d send Danny Green and the player they select with the 28th overall pick to Oklahoma City, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The pick will have to be made by the Lakers because a team can’t trade first-round picks in consecutive years (and L.A. sent its 2019 first-round pick to New Orleans in the Anthony Davis trade).

To circumvent that rule, the Lakers will first make the 28th selection (of whoever OKC tells L.A. it wants) and then finalize the trade of Green plus that draft selection for Schroeder. 

Schroeder was a target for the Lakers for his ability to be a secondary ball-handler alongside LeBron James. He made sense as a sell for the small-market Thunder because he’s only got one season remaining on his contract.

Will the No. 28 pick become a member of the Lakers?

No, the No. 28 pick will never become a member of the Lakers, unless L.A. went rogue and selected a different player than who the Thunder want. Since the deal isn’t technically official yet, OKC could still back out of the trade in that scenario.

Otherwise, Los Angeles will select the prospect of the Thunder’s choosing and finalize the deal after the draft concludes Wednesday night, according to Wojnarowski. With that timing, it’s the drafted players rights that move to the Thunder, and Oklahoma City will then negotiate a rookie-scale contract with its newest player.

Why will the Trail Blazers pick for the Rockets?

The Trail Blazers agreed to send the No. 16 overall pick (along with Trevor Ariza and a 2021 protected first-rounder) to the Rockets for Robert Covington, according to Wojnarowski. Wojnarowski went on to report that this deal won’t be finalized until after the draft. Since teams can’t trade first-round picks in consecutive years and Portland is also sending out its 2021 first-rounder, it’ll have to make the selection itself in 2020 before sending those draft rights to Houston.

That means Portland will be on the clock at the 16th pick to take whoever Houston tells the Blazers to take. Only after the draft can Covington officially join the Trail Blazers.

Covington made sense for Portland to acquire because of his defensive ability on the perimeter, which should help cover up shortcomings at that end of the floor for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

Will the No. 16 pick become a member of the Trail Blazers?

No, the No. 16 pick won’t become a Portland player. The only way that wouldn’t be true is if the Trail Blazers didn’t follow Houston’s instructions for who to select at 16th overall, which could lead the Rockets to back out of a trade that has yet to become official.

The No. 16 pick will only be a Trail Blazer for the remainder of the draft. Once it’s over, the deal will be finalized, per Wojnarowski, and the draft rights of the selected prospect will go to Houston, which will then negotiate on a rookie-scale deal.

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