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Why traded NBA draft picks are forced to wear the wrong hats on stage

A little-known rule causes a lot of confusion on NBA draft night.

​Deep inside the bowels of the Barclays Center two years ago, Nerlens Noel sat behind the 2013 NBA draft interview room podium, beaming and wearing a New Orleans Pelicans hat. A few minutes before Noel sat down in front of a sea of reporters, news broke that the Pelicans had shipped Noel, the No. 6 overall pick, to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jrue Holiday and New Orleans’ 2014 top-five protected first round pick.  

Noel had no idea.

When Noel was asked about playing in Philadelphia, he looked puzzled. “I know they have a young team. Jrue Holiday is an All-Star point guard, it would be great to play with him,” he answered, completely unaware he was, in fact, traded for Holiday.

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The confusing moment boils down to a silly deadline. NBA teams have until 2 p.m. on the day of the NBA draft to officially trade draft picks. Following that deadline, teams can agree to trade players and picks as the draft occurs, but in order to finalize those trades, teams must draft players with their original selections before trading the rights to those players.

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​For example, the Pelicans could not have traded the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft directly to the Sixers. In order to essentially swap Noel for Holiday, the Pelicans had to select Noel at No. 6 and then send his draft rights to the 76ers (and the exclusive ability to negotiate his rookie contract).

It’s semantics, yes, but the awkward trade process creates plenty of confusion for fans watching from home. The 2015 NBA draft is shaping up to be a wild night filled with trades and player movement. Get ready for some serious hat swapping.