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What is the Stepien Rule?

I, like many people these last couple of weeks, have been playing NBA 2K20. Not being an experienced player of such games, there a few questions that have come to my mind, particularly with trades and the salary cap. One of the biggest issues I have found in trying to complete trades is the Stepien rule.

What is the Stepien rule? Ted Stepien was the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers between 1980 and 1983. His management of a basketball franchise was so poor that he traded away numerous years of first round picks for veterans who did not make the grade. The NBA stepped in 1981 to stop Stepien trading away the Cavaliers future. Once Stepien sold the Cavs in 1983, the Stepien rule was brought in by the NBA so NBA franchises could not trade away successive years of first round picks.

As I get increasingly frustrated by NBA 2K20 and my trades not being able to be made, I decided to take a deeper look at who and how the Stepien rule came about.

Definition of the Stepien Rule?

The definition of the Stepien Rule can be found in the NBA Constitution under section seven.

7.03. First Round Draft Choice. No Member may sell its rights to select a player in the first round of any NBA Draft for cash or its equivalent, or trade or exchange its right to select a player in the first round of any NBA Draft if the result of such trade or exchange may be to leave the Member without first-round picks in any two consecutive future NBA Drafts.

Who was Ted Stepien?

Ted Stepien was an American Businessman who owned the National Advertising Service. Stepien had set up the National Advertising Servicve in his youth and due to the good fortune of the company he became a multi-millionaire. With his new found wealth Stepien invested in the Cleveland Cavaliers, originally purchasing 38% of the franchise in the summer of 1980. By the end of the year he controlled the Cleveland Cavaliers entirely. Stepien was an immensely unpopular owner, the NBA did not approve of his methods of management and in particular the trading of Cleveland Cavaliers consecutive first round picks. In the end the NBA banned the Cleveland Cavaliers from trading their first-round draft picks away. The situation became so bad for the Cavaliers that the NBA allowed them to buy first round draft picks. In 1983 Stepien sold the Cavaliers having seen audience number fall drastically.

Who could the Cavaliers got with their picks?

The talent which was brought into the Cavaliers in return for the first round picks ended up being woeful. The individuals did not help Stepien’s ambition of making the Cavaliers a playoff team. What was more worrying was the talent that the Cavaliers missed out on and how, if they used their picks wisely, they could of become a play off team. Below is a table of who was picked with the Cleveland Cavaliers draft picks and who they could of had (with hindsight).

Picks TradedWho was picked with the
Cavs picks
Who the Cavs could
of drafted
1982 1st RoundJames WorthyDominique Wilkins
1983 1st RoundDerek HarperClyde Drexler
1984 1st RoundSam PerkinsCharles Barkley
1985 1st RoundDetlef ScrempfKarl Malone
1986 1st Round x 2Roy Tarpley and
Dennis Rodman
Dennis Rodman

The Cavs could of easily had a team with a number of All-Stars in it however, due to the poor decision to trade the picks there was no All-Stars for the Cavs.

What did the Cavs do next?

When Stepien sold the Cavs there was a stipulation in the sale whereby the NBA would allow the Cavs to buy first round draft picks. In the eyes of the NBA this would stop the franchise from going under. Through this incentive the Cavs purchased the 24th Pick in 1983, 12th Pick in 1984, 9th Pick in 1985 and 8th Pick in 1986. This then helped the Cavs to improve dramatically towards the end of the 1980s.

Is there a legitimate way to get round the Stepien rule?

The only way to get round the Stepien rule is to have pick swaps rather than trade for players. For the NBA 2k20 game the best way to get around the rule legitimately is to turn the rule off in settings.