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The [Ted] Stepien rule exists because of the ineptitude of its namesake, who owned the Cavs from 1980 through '83 and mortgaged the team's future by trading away first-round draft picks like they were candy. Remember the Showtime Lakers' dynasty in the 1980s? Stepien is partly to thank -- one of the picks he traded turned out to be first overall in 1982, with which the Lakers happily selected James Worthy.
The Stepien rule says teams can't trade first-round picks if they could be left without one in consecutive years. The rule looks only to the future -- teams that traded their 2010 picks can still trade their 2011 picks. But teams that already have traded their 2011 picks can't trade their 2012 picks. Once the 2011 draft is complete and a team's 2011 pick is no longer a future pick, it is free to trade its 2012 pick.
When dealing with pick protection, the Stepien rule is interpreted to mean that teams can't trade a first-round pick if it results in so much as a minute possibility that they could be without a first-round pick in consecutive years.
The Clippers also are owed a first-round pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves were slated to give this pick to L.A. this year unless it was in the top 10, in which case they instead would send their 2012 pick unconditionally. (As it turns out, Minnesota's pick is in the top 10, so L.A. instead gets the 2012 pick, but this was not yet determined when the Clippers and Cavs were dealing.) And for the cherry atop this draft-pick sundae, if the Clippers get Minnesota's pick in 2012 and owe their own pick to Boston in 2012, the Clips keep the higher pick and send Boston the lower pick.