Ted Stepien and the James Worthy Rule

Gatinho —  September 11, 2007

Ted Stepien, a former owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers…died Monday at his home in Willoughby Hills, Ohio. He was 82.

Stepien paid $2 million for 37% of the Cavaliers in April 1980 and soon became the majority shareholder. The Cavaliers went 66-180, dropped to the bottom of the league in attendance and lost $15 million during Stepien’s three years of ownership.

In honor of the man whose ineptitude allowed the reigning champs to land James Worthy, I share the ignominious tale from a previous post…

Okay, so it’s really called the Ted Stepien Rule: In 1980 the Lakers traded Don Ford to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of one of many disastrous moves by Stepien.

Ford would end up playing in only 85 games over the next two years and that pick would turn into Hall of Famer “Big Game” James Worthy. The first, last, and only time that a reigning NBA champ would have the top pick in the following year’s draft.

Stepien would end up operating with such abandonment that the NBA took away the ability for him to make trades without the league’s specific direction and approval. The Gund brothers, who bought the Cavs in 1983, would only follow through with the transaction after the NBA promised to give them supplemental first round picks to replace those that Stepien had traded away.

None of this would happen in the here and now. GM’s are now backed by a slew of assistants, and all first round picks are lottery protected. The aptly nicknamed Ted Stepien rule states that teams can not trade first round picks in consecutive years and every team must have at least one pick in the two rounds of the draft.

In effect, we will never see a traded first round pick end up being the numero uno. It happened to the Lakers twice, and because common sense and league rules now dictate the process, it will never happen again.

Four coaches in one season: Stepien’s ineptitude was highlighted in 1982 when he hired and fired four different coaches in one season. The first of those coaches was Chuck Daly, who he fired after 41 games and replaced with Bill Musselman, Eric’s father.

Sacramento has interviewed Eric for their open position, and he comes with the endorsement of Daly who has called him a “basketball genius.”

Warrior fans may begrudgingly agree:

And I guess we all know how that Musselman stint in Sactown went.

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho



to Ted Stepien and the James Worthy Rule

  1. Detroit came close to being a champion with a #1, as they traded Otis Thorpe for a future first rounded in 1997. That pick finally went to the Pistons in 2003, and became Darko Milicic, drafted 2nd that year after the Pistons had lost in the eastern conference finals. They won the whole thing the next year.

    This happened because the pick was lottery-protected for long enough that the Pistons got good, and when there was finally no protection, they were right there.

    Isiah Thomas strikes me as a candidate for a simialr feat in the future. He came somewhat close with the Eddy Curry trade, which wasn’t lottery protected. Bulls could have won the lottery had the balls bounced right, and were a long shot contender for the title. I’m sure Thomas will keep trying.


  2. Phoenix could win the title this year and then have Atlanta’s unprotected first rounder next season end up #1 (if Atlanta misses the playoffs).


  3. IF Atlanta misses the playoffs? Drew, you apparently are a bigger believer in the Hawks than most.


  4. Kurt,

    You do realize that Tyronn Lue is in a contract year, right?


  5. Lottery picks don’t make the same kind of immediate impact as they used to. Amare and Lebron, yes. After that not much. Oh ya, Andrew Bogut. Right. Point is if I’m going for a title in the short term, I’d take J Kidd over the chance to pick Oden or Durant any day. The Lakers screwed up in not getting Kidd. Kidd and Kobe play well together. There is no doubting this.


  6. (2) and (3) on Atlanta’s pick…

    I believe Atlanta will lose out on a top 4 pick with this one… It was even the reason why Phoenix traded their 08 and 10 picks to Seattle along with Kurt Thomas knowing they have a guaranteed lottery pick with Atlanta’s pick. Should it be possible that Atlanta might make the playoffs, they will still own FOR SURE a higher pick than Phoenix will in the 08 draft.

    I believe the impact of lottery picks will depend highly on the makeup and structure of the current team. Most teams draft talent even though they are loaded in that position. Bad draft teams draft for needed positions (see Lakers in 2003 w/ Brian Cook) which could be better if the player adapts the role better (Tayshaun Prince in 2003). The lastly, they will definitely impact the team if that team is in a full-rebuild mode like Oden in Portland, Durant and Green in Seattle, Horford in Atlanta, Brewer in Minnesota.

    Players that will develop a better understanding of the game but not much impact would be Joakim Noah of the Bulls, Mike Conley of Memphis and Brandan Wright in GS.
    Knowing Noah cannot contribute immediately with how the Bulls are currently constructed, I wish the Lakers could make a pitch for him using future picks and current ones. Noah will greatly help the interior rebouding and defense of the Lakers given the chance. Plus he is 6’11 and plays FC. Perfect.


  7. Remember taht back then players mostly played 4 years and were much more NBA ready than today’s players.

    But James Worthy is a once in a generation type of player…


  8. WarrenWeeLim,
    Very nice analysis! Noah is someone we haven’t been talking about anywhere so far. I think that the Bulls will not trade Noah for anything but Kobe before the start of the year. If they need something or if he is just not getting/earning any minutes in Skiles’ system, then we may be able to get him around the trade deadline. Something else to watch out for.

    A high b’ball IQ at the PF position is something the triangle could use. We have 5 good triangle IQ players at different positions now (Fisher, Farmar, Kobe, Walton, Mihm). That’s why I said we could use one at PF.


  9. Stepien should have a statue in LA. He is the reason for the dynasty of the 80s.


  10. Craig, I know Kurt despises trade speculation but there might be a slim chance Noah can be had from the Bulls.

    I was looking at the Bulls roster and here are some things I found:

    1. Luol Deng and ben Gordon are due for extensions early this season. Paxson has always held his hand quite well and said he will not offer “crazy” numbers for these players and thus will offer the commensurate amounts with due diligence. I assume its at 8M for Gordon and 10M for Deng.

    2. Ben Wallace has always been a Piston for as long as he could possibly remember. Now, after receiveing his fattest check in his life, he finds himself in an obscure position to be around young kids and being the odd man out. If we think Chicago has questioned Pax for signing him, can’t we say the same for Big Ben for signing with them? Buyer’s remorse is what I’m seeing.

    3. The Bulls are somewhat like the Lakers in terms of team makeup – extremely young, nice young prospects and can rebuild anytime they like. The daunting difference is that th Bulls are out East and they are considered contenders there. Once more I say it, if the Lakers are out East, they are easily top 4.

    4. With a couple more seasons playing together, Nocioni, Hincrich, Gordon and Deng poses the biggest and probably the deadliest NBA youth movement. Since these 4 guys play 1-2-3 in the roster, signing Joe Smith and keeping Big Ben seem like an odd move to make considering they had drafted Noah and now has Tyrus Thomas tearing up the nets.

    5. If the Bulls made another move for Pau Gasol in Memphis, I think we can squeeze in as the 3rd team and offer Kwame and Crittenton and a pick for Joakim Noah and Mike Miller. There isn’t really much lost on this for us since we effectively add Miller as an able scoring option while getting Noah. Memphis could use the cap room and the picks while Chicago could use Critt to back up Hinrich after parting with Gordon to Memphis for Pau.


  11. WarrenWeeLim,
    Nice, creative thinking. I doubt any of this would take place before the season starts, however. The existing clubs are still feeling good about themselves (read Memphis).

    My question would be “Why do we need Mike Miller?” He is an absolute disaster on defense and is a relief valve, not a passer – that is why I think he will be replaced on team USA. For that long range shooting we have Vlade, and he is better at rebounding and even defense. I don’t see the Lakers saddling themselves with Miller’s contract.


  12. The reason for Mike Miller was not more of “we need him” but more like “if Pau goes, Mike Miller and Brian Cardinal must go too”. Assuming that deal went through, since we are the 3rd team and we are not getting the steak here, Mike Miller would be a better choice than Cardinal.

    Since Chicago would be the main player in this deal, they will be obliged to accept Cardinal’s burden in exchange for a player like Duhon as add-ons to the deal.

    Would you not trade Kwame and Critt for Miller and Noah?


  13. Warren,
    If Chicago is going to build around their young players as you suggest,they’d try to unload Wallace and not Noah. Noah would be the young big to go w/their skill players. And I’ve read where Noah is deeply impressing team officials w/his daily workouts.

    Mike Miller is a pretty good at passing the ball. To the point where Coach K experimented w/Miller as the point running the offense in a couple of the blowouts.(It didn’t work out too well,but the thinking behind the experiment is revealing.) Miller had a bad summer shooting the ball,but he is a good shooter who can get hot and light it up.He would be a much better fit for Lakers than Radmanavich as Miller can play SG and give the Lakers some offense when Kobe gets a rest.