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NBA AM: The 2016 Pick Debt – Who Owes Who?

A look at which teams owe their 2016 NBA draft pick to another squad and the associated protections.

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The 2016 Pick Debt – Who Owes Who?

The day has finally arrived – the 2015 NBA Draft will take place in just a few hours. Let’s all give ourselves a hand for making it to this point.

The NBA never sleeps, though, and even with this year’s draft approaching, many already have an eye out to 2016. With that in mind, as you kill time waiting for Adam Silver to take the stage this evening, let’s forecast things a year ahead. We don’t yet know which teams will occupy which slots, but we do know which franchises have pick debts set to be paid, either concretely or potentially (based on protections), in next year’s draft.

So who owes who? Let’s break it down, starting with a few of the biggest debts and working our way down to a few more minor and/or less likely pick transfers. For the purposes of brevity, we’ll analyze only deals including first-round picks.

Big Debts

Philadelphia receives LA Lakers’ 1st-round pick, protected 1-3

Almost certainly the largest debt owed unless the Lakers manage to once again land a top-three selection next year. This pick originally went to Phoenix before moving at the trade deadline this year in what’s looking like a somewhat massive boon for the 76ers. The Lakers are openly looking to improve their on-court product for what’s assumed to be Kobe Bryant’s final season, and while they might be able to do so, it seems highly unlikely they’ll be able to cobble together an actual playoff contender.

Philly could be caught in the perfect middle. If LA is just good enough to slide out of the top three, but still bad enough in a murderous West to fall somewhere in the 4-8 range, Sam Hinkie and company can laugh their way to the bank with yet another high pick.

Boston receives Brooklyn’s unprotected 1st-round pick

Due to the lack of protection, this is the only other debt on the books that could hypothetically approach the one above. Much of the Nets’ situation is up in the air at this point; they could very easily be a lottery team, and if several things go wrong, it’s far from out of the question that they’re among the league’s worst next year. And if they’re in the lottery at all, the Cs have at least a token chance at a top-three pick.

All the incentive is on Brooklyn here to put a competitive team on the floor next season – there’s absolutely zero benefit to tanking.

Philadelphia receives Miami’s 1st-round pick, protected 1-10

Certainly not in the league of our first two, but this could be a relevant debt in short order if the HEAT end up in the same win range they occupied this season. A scenario where Miami barely misses the playoffs could be painful if they send a lottery pick to the 76ers. It seems a bit more likely the HEAT are slightly better next year, with Chris Bosh returning and Hassan Whiteside ready to wreck the league for a full season. Goran Dragic is expected to re-sign also, and Miami will be active over the next few weeks.

Dwyane Wade is the wild card here; if he were actually to leave town, the outlook for the HEAT becomes murkier. In this scenario, the 1-10 protection could come in handy if Pat Riley and Co. are unable to fill Wade’s void and the HEAT slip back into the lottery – but the kicker here could be an upcoming disaster in 2017. The pick becomes completely unprotected then, and if things fall to shambles following a D-Wade departure, Miami could be looking at sending a high lottery pick they’d badly need for a rebuild.

Phoenix receives Cleveland’s 1st-round pick, protected 1-10

This makes the “big debts” list only because it’s one of the only first-rounders that’s a sure thing (or very close) to be transferred in 2016 and no later. The Cavs won’t be picking in the top 10 barring some incredibly bad luck, or maybe the most disastrous summer in league history. The best the Suns can hope for is a combination of injuries and slight on-court disappointment compared with expectations, which might be enough to push their pick into the mid-20s rather than the very end of the first round.

Philadelphia receives Oklahoma City’s 1st-round pick, protected 1-15

It’s the least potentially valuable of their selections, and another fairly certain to be conveyed in 2016 and not any later, but Philly is up to their usual tricks once again. Consider that, if everything falls absolutely perfectly for them, the 76ers could own the following picks in 2016: 1st (their own), 4th (Lakers), 11th (Heat), and 16th (Thunder). This is obviously wildly unrealistic, but even two or three of these debts turning into slightly worse picks could make 2016 the Sam Hinkie triumph draft.

Boston receives Dallas’s 1st-round pick, protected 1-7

How valuable this debt becomes will obviously depend on how the Mavericks are next season; some project them to finally fall out of the Western Conference playoff picture, and if they did so without slipping as low as the seventh pick, it could be disastrous.

If, on the other hand, the Mavs re-tool and put together another playoff run, Boston gets yet another later first-rounder to try their hand with. Regardless, it’s a worthwhile haul for the Celtics in a Rajon Rondo trade that turned out to be awful for Dallas in basically every way.

Medium Debts

Denver owns pick-swap rights with New York (lesser pick goes to Toronto)

This one sits in the “medium” category because, as of this very moment, both the Knicks and Nuggets are not projected to be very good next season. If both are in the league’s bottom seven or so, we could be looking at a difference of only one or two picks – though of course, the gap between the fifth and third picks can often be huge.

Things will change in a hurry if the Nuggets improve significantly while the Knicks remain bad. A wide gap could be a huge deal for Denver – it would signal that they made good moves this summer and are back on the rise, plus they’d have another high pick that their record didn’t actually justify. It would be yet another draft trade disaster for the Knicks.

Denver receives Portland’s 1st-round pick, protected 1-14

Pretty cut-and-dried here – if Portland makes the playoffs, they lose their pick. If they miss them, they keep it. Things could be worse. The result will likely hinge on what happens with LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews, though a Wednesday trade of Nic Batum to Charlotte might indicate Portland is on their way down the standings. Should Portland manage to find the postseason again, the same protections will apply for the 2017 draft as well.

Small/Unlikely Debts

Boston receives Minnesota’s 1st-round pick, protected 1-12

Like the others in this section, this debt isn’t too likely to be conveyed in 2016. The Wolves have a bright future ahead of them, but it’s tough to see them legitimately challenging for the playoffs next year. It’s much more likely Minnesota keeps the pick, which would result in it becoming a guaranteed debt of their 2016 and 2017 2nd-round picks heading Boston’s way.

Chicago receives Sacramento’s 1st-round pick, protected 1-10

Same deal, though this one is perhaps slightly more likely to be conveyed in 2016 with a smaller protection. But trusting the Kings to make the playoffs or come close, particularly if they do indeed move DeMarcus Cousins as is widely speculated, is a fool’s errand. We’ll believe it when we see it from this sad sack franchise, and not a second before. The pick has the same protections the following year, and becomes a very mildly-protected (56-60) second-round pick in 2018 if not conveyed by then.

Denver receives Memphis’s 1st-round pick, protected 1-5 and 15-30

If the Griz retain Marc Gasol as most expect them to, this is another that’s a big underdog to be transferred next year. Crazier things have happened than a team like this sustaining some injuries and bad luck and falling into the late lottery, which would send the pick, but it’s certainly not likely. Things get a bit more interesting the following year, where the 15-30 protection is removed and the Griz retain the pick only if they tank into a top-five slot.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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