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What is the Ted Stepien Rule?


James Worthy of the Los Angeles Lakers

Future hall-of-famer "Big Game" James Worthy is just one of the notable players selected with draft picks Ted Stepien traded away.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Definition: The NBA prohibits teams from trading first-round draft picks in successive seasons. The rule was put in place in response to Ted Stepien's disastrous run as owner and de facto general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

During Stepien's reign, the Cavaliers made a practice of trading future draft picks for marginal veteran players. His most notable deal sent a 1982 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Dan Ford and the 22nd overall pick in 1980. That 1982 pick wound up being the first overall selection, which the Lakers used to select future hall-of-famer James Worthy.

Some other notable players who were selected with picks Stepien traded away:

  • Sam Perkins (1984, 4th overall)
  • Derek Harper (1983, 11th overall)
  • Roy Tarpley (1986, 7th overall)
  • Detlef Schrempf (1985, 8th overall)
  • Dennis Rodman (1986, 27th overall)
Stepien sold the team to George and Gordon Gund after the 1983 season. As part of the deal, the NBA gave the Cavaliers bonus first-round draft picks in 1983 through 1986. The league also prohibited the trade of first-round picks in successive seasons, which came to be known as the Ted Stepien Rule.


Examples: The Ted Stepien rule prohibits the Knicks from trading their 2011 first-round draft pick, because their 2012 pick was traded to the Houston Rockets as part of the Tracy McGrady deal.

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