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Answering Portland Trail Blazers Draft, Trade, and Lottery Questions

Trades and lotteries and play-ins, oh my!

NBA: Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2022-23 regular season winding down, the 2023 NBA Draft and free agency period are on the horizon. In today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag, we cover a pair of procedural questions asked by readers.

Hi Dave,

Whether they can be kept in our stack of trade chips or simply pass through our fingers, my understanding is there are six 1st-Round picks POR could potentially use toward trading for a ‘Big Get’ this summer. Those picks would be: POR’s own 2023 protected pick owed to CHI, the Knicks’ 2023 protected pick potentially owed to POR, and four other future Blazers picks, which they currently cannot use in trades unless POR strikes a compensation deal with CHI to free them up.

Dave, 1) is the above accurate, 2) is there any realistically conceivable way the Blazers could husband all 6 picks for trading this summer, and 3) what would be the dicey labyrinth formula to pull that off?

Thank you,

Taylor in FL

There’s more potential than that. Let’s break it down.

NBA teams can trade first-round picks up to seven years in advance. Any or all of their first-rounders are eligible for trade as long as the trade does not violate these two rules:

  1. They cannot trade a pick that’s already been promised to someone else, or could be.
  2. They cannot make a trade that would leave them without first-round picks in consecutive future seasons. Picks they retain don’t have to be their own. As long as they don’t leave themselves void in two consecutive future drafts, they’re good.

Both the seven-year and consecutive-year rule are meant to protect team owners—current and potential—from devaluing the franchise by mortgaging the farm on a trade today. You can take a big swing, but you have to leave yourself some light at the end of the tunnel in case it doesn’t work out.

Portland’s situation is pretty simple.

  • The Blazers owe the Chicago Bulls a first-round pick from the Larry Nance, Jr. deal a couple years ago. The pick is lottery-protected through 2028. If the Blazers end up in the lottery, they keep the pick and the burden shifts to the next season. As long as the Blazers owe Chicago a pick, they can’t trade away any picks that might actually belong to the Bulls. If the pick does not convey to Chicago by 2028, it becomes a second-round pick instead.
  • The Blazers are set to receive a 2023 first-round pick from the New York Knicks, courtesy of the Josh Hart trade this season. That pick is also lottery-protected. If the Knicks end up in the lottery, Portland will receive four second-round picks instead.

As you can see, the Blazers do not have any issue with the consecutive years rule yet. They have all their own picks—potentially even this year’s if they miss the playoffs—plus the one incoming from New York. If the standings remain as they are, Portland will hold a pair of 2023 first-rounders, plus one in each year following. No gaps, they’re set.

That pick owed to Chicago puts a monkey wrench in the system, though. It would technically prevent them from moving their own picks between now and 2028 because they might owe any of those to the Bulls.

The easiest route to freeing up those future picks is negotiating with Chicago to take a more defined pick, either now or later. Pay off what you owe and you don’t owe it anymore.

If Portland makes the lottery this year but doesn’t get a Top Four spot, they may ask Chicago to take this year’s pick to complete the deal. The Bulls get a slightly higher position while the Blazers free up their future picks for other deals. It’s a win-win.

Or the Blazers could ask the Bulls to take New York’s pick. Chicago might do that, figuring a pick in a strong draft this year is better than an undefined future. That’d be even better for Portland.

Or the Blazers could negotiate with the Bulls to remove future restrictions. They could promise to give the Bulls their pick in 2024 no matter what, for instance. That’s a riskier move and less productive, as it would also bind up Portland’s own 2025 pick because of that consecutive-years rule. This seems much less likely.

However they do it, Portland will probably be interested renegotiating with Chicago, especially if the Blazers have a spare pick this year. If the Bulls go for it, this problem is solved.

Let’s assume Portland achieves this. They then have any picks they didn’t give to the Bulls, plus all their picks for seven years to negotiate with on draft day and beyond.

Remember, though, the team can’t break the rules in future trades either. They cannot trade away picks that would leave them void for consecutive years even if they want Joel Embiid really, really bad.

Some teams manage this by trading away picks due every other year, like 2024, 26, 28, and 30. Keeping picks every second year satisfies the consecutive rule.

Some teams employ pick swaps, a clever way to circumvent the consecutive rule. Instead of trading away a pick completely, a team offers their trade partner the right to swap picks in a given year, so the trade partner is guaranteed the more favorable position of the two. This isn’t as powerful as giving away the pick outright, but it does grant the possibility of improvement while allowing each team to keep a first-rounder and stay on the good side of the rules.

So, for instance, the Blazers could call Philadelphia and say, “We’ll give you Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Jusuf Nurkic, a 2024 first-rounder, a pick swap in 2025, a 2026 first-rounder, a pick swap in 2027, a 2028 first-rounder, a pick swap in 2029, and a 2030 first-rounder. That’s three players, four unprotected picks, and three pick swaps, all for the low, low price of Joel Embiid!” That’s extreme, but it shows how many potential assets are in play.

You can see the importance of clearing up the situation with Chicago here. Removing the 2024-2028 picks from consideration (really 2029 too, as you can’t leave potential consecutive-year voids) guts that deal entirely, limiting Portland’s options big time.

Hey Dave,

I was wonderin’ do the Blazers lose one of their first round picks if they make the play in and then are eliminated before the playoffs ?

Joe L.

Super easy. The Play-In Tournament determines which teams make the playoffs. Lottery participants are all the teams that don’t make the playoffs, which is only determined after the Play-In Tournament is complete. The two never mix.

At the end of the season, four teams will finish in the 7th-10th positions in each conference. None of those teams is actually in the playoffs yet. They participate in the Play-In Tournament to determine the 7th and 8th seeds in the playoffs bracket.

The winners of the Play-In Tournament will be considered the 7th and 8th seeds in the playoffs even if they finished the regular season in a lower position. Similarly, the losers of the Play-In Tournament will participate in the lottery even if they finished the regular season in a higher position.

If the 10th-place regular-season team earns the 8th playoff seed, they’re a playoffs team, not a lottery team. If the 8th-place regular-season team doesn’t get into the actual playoffs, they’re a lottery team, not a playoffs team.

Lottery odds are determined as normal. Teams are ordered by their regular-season record, worst to best, and receive ping-pong ball combinations accordingly. That’s true no matter what the relative records. A 7th-place team that fails to win the Play-In Tournament is going to have worse odds than anyone else in the lottery because they won more games than anyone else, but they’ll still participate in the lottery. Presuming they don’t get promoted to Top Four, they’ll receive the 14th pick—the lowest lottery pick—instead of the pick they’d have normally gotten due to their regular-season record.

The same thing happens in reverse with teams that win the Play-In. A 10th team that makes the actual playoffs will probably get the 15th pick in the draft—the best of the playoffs-team picks—because they’ll probably have a worse record than any of the other playoffs teams. They won’t leapfrog over the lottery teams in the order because of their record.

If it’s easier, just think of the Play-In Tournament sorting the 7th-10th teams in each conference into one of two buckets: playoffs or lottery. Once deposited, each team operates in that bucket only, following all its rules and conventions, including draft order. They cannot jump into the other bucket anymore. A team in the playoffs cannot also be a lottery team, at least not with their own pick.

Thanks for the questions! You can always send yours to and we’ll try to answer!