During the 1983 season, when the NBA was in the midst of the sale of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA had to compensate the team by awarding them draft picks to interest potential bidders as the Cavaliers had traded away so many future first-round picks already.
As a result, the NBA created the Ted Stepien Rule, named after the Cavaliers owner at the time. The rule stated that no team can participate in trades that would leave them without first-round picks in back-to-back drafts.
However, teams found a loophole around this, as they often do in the NBA. Teams, such as the Brooklyn Nets, created the pick-swap system, with future first-round picks dependent on the success of a particular team. After taking some time to ponder possibilities, it seems as though the NBA is attempting to counteract this and potentially forbid pick swaps in between years in which draft picks have been traded, via ESPN’s Zach Lowe:
The league has since discussed banning pick swaps between drafts in which a team already owes its pick to other teams; the tweak has been on the competition committee agenda, but has not been debated yet at length, sources say.
That strategy heavily backfired on the Nets, during the trades to acquire Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The Nets dealt their 2014, 2016, and 2018 first-round picks, while also guaranteeing the right to swap picks with the Atlanta Hawks in 2015 and Boston Celtics in 2017.
During the aftermath of the trade, the Nets have fallen to the worst team in the NBA, assembling a dismal 20-62 record last season. After that forgettable season, the Nets saw their No. 1 pick go to the Celtics, fresh off an Eastern conference finals appearance. Next year’s first round pick is also headed to Boston.
This is simply a case of the NBA trying to protect teams from themselves. Limiting these kinds of swaps would certainly help things, but it would likely just be a matter of time before teams found another way around it.