How Detroit winning the 2021 draft lottery may help future Houston pick

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In addition to landing the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft, another potential benefit to the Houston Rockets from Tuesday’s draft lottery involves the numerous other high selections.

For starters, in a draft class known for its clear top five, Houston is the only Western Conference team among that group. The others are Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, and Orlando, and from a competitive standpoint, it’s good for the Rockets to see most other top prospects avoid the West.

But even among that group of Eastern Conference teams, Detroit winning the No. 1 pick is probably the best-case result for the Rockets and general manager Rafael Stone (other than getting it, themselves).

When the Rockets traded a 2020 first-round pick (No. 16 overall) to the Pistons last offseason, they received a protected future first-rounder in return as part of the agreement. That selection is top-16 protected in 2022; top-18 protected in 2023 and 2024; and top-13, top-11, and top-9 protected in 2025, 2026, and 2027, respectively. If the pick does not convey by 2027, Houston would receive a second-round pick, instead.

When Detroit (20-52) finished the 2020-21 season with the NBA’s second-worst record, many fans were understandably skeptical as to whether the Pistons would win enough in the years ahead to avoid those high first-round protections. To say the least, acquiring a prospect such as Cade Cunningham would improve the odds of them doing so.

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There’s potentially a second benefit, too. Based on the NBA’s Stepien rule, teams cannot trade out of the first round in consecutive future seasons. Because of the uncertain nature of when that future first-round pick to Houston will ultimately convey, Detroit is currently unable to include any first-round picks in trade proposals until 2029!

Detroit could potentially get around this roadblock by acquiring a future first-round pick from another team, but it’s not as if they have a roster loaded with veteran assets to enable such a transaction.

As a result, it could give Stone and the Rockets more leverage to create yet another trade with the Pistons. In effect, that future pick is disproportionately more valuable to Detroit than anyone else (including Houston) — because to them, it’s about both the asset value of the pick itself plus the added flexibility of again being able to trade future picks.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that the Pistons viewed Cunningham and Jalen Green as similar in value (as some reports have suggested) and were open to trading back a pick or two to allow someone else to grab Cunningham — who is viewed as the consensus No. 1 in 2021. Should that be a consideration, Houston could potentially offer a tempting package including both the No. 2 overall and Detroit’s future pick, which would take away those cumbersome restrictions on trades.

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But even if Detroit general manager Troy Weaver is locked on Cunningham, the value of lifting those restrictions may eventually help enable a different deal between the Rockets and Pistons. After all, if Cunningham and Jerami Grant are able to lift Detroit’s performance to a playoff level in the coming years, future first-round draft assets are often the best trade currency around the NBA for further roster upgrades.

The bottom line is that owning a future first-rounder from Detroit provides useful leverage to Stone and the Rockets. Moreover, the Pistons earning the No. 1 draft pick in 2021 only adds to the list of possibilities and the likelihood of it ultimately providing real value to Houston.

Related

Report: Detroit isn't locked in on Cade Cunningham at No. 1 in draft

Rockets trade Ariza, No. 16 pick to Detroit for future first-rounder

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