Rockets can not trade their 2011 draft pick

There have been several columns and reports, most recently one by ESPN Insider, that mention the Rockets potentially including their 2011 first round draft choice in a trade.

Only one problem — they can’t.

ClutchFans confirmed on Friday that, due to the Ted Stepien rule that restricts teams from trading away future first rounders in consecutive years, the Rockets can not currently trade their first round pick for this summer’s draft. The Terrence Williams trade, which sent Houston’s lottery-protected 2012 pick to New Jersey, has restricted the Rockets in the same fashion as the Knicks were handcuffed by the Tracy McGrady-Jordan Hill+picks deal last February.

But wait — don’t the Rockets have a 2012 pick? Technically they may have two. If the Rockets finish in the lottery in 2011-12, they keep their pick. If the Knicks’ pick doesn’t end up in the top 5, it goes to Houston.

However, the Rockets do not have a guaranteed pick that year. If the Rockets make the playoffs and New York’s pick strikes top-5 gold, the Rockets have nothing.

There are some loopholes. The Rockets can be free of that restriction by acquiring another team’s unconditional 2011 pick or an unconditional 2012 pick. If not, they will be able to trade the pick on draft day the moment the selection is made, so technically they could work a deal beforehand and make the pick for another team, similar to what they did when they picked Rudy Gay for the Memphis Grizzlies at #8 in 2006.

One other draft pick asset to keep an eye on — the 2011 second round draft choice of the Los Angeles Clippers. The Rockets have the option to switch second round picks with the Clippers by virtue of the Steve Novak trade in 2008. The Clips are looking like a bottom five team once again, which could make that a high second rounder (the kind that Daryl Morey and the Rockets love).

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