Right now, the Los Angeles Clippers have the fifth-best record in the NBA. The 2016 NBA draft is a long ways off--there's months of games to be played just to determine playoff seeding for the NBA post-season, where the Clippers will certainly have a role to play in the drama. Within the organization, focus should solely be on the games ahead, and leaving off-season matters for the off-season.
However, there's a noteworthy quirk with the Clippers' draft position that warrants some outside thought, even when there's action on the court to consider as well. In the ancient past, the Clippers shipped a conditional second-round pick to New Orleans for Rasual Butler, who set a franchise record for three point FG made in a season in his only full year with the franchise--not bad for a conditional second-round pick, which turns out to have been the Clippers' 2016 selection. Coincidentally, Butler now plays for the Clippers' Western Conference rival San Antonio in a reserve role.
Three years later, in the summer of 2012, the Clippers agreed to facilitate a sign-and-trade for rugged veteran rebounder Reggie Evans, who had been a Clipper for 56 games in the 2011-2012 season. Evans joined the Brooklyn Nets in the deal, and for their trouble the Clippers walked away with a future second-round pick--or so ESPN reported. In reality, the Clippers didn't land Brooklyn's 2016 second round pick in the deal--they landed the right to swap second round selections with Brooklyn in 2016.
According to RealGM's Future Drafts Detailed page (seriously, if you ever need to know anything about draft conditions, this is your spot), the pick that the Clippers sent to New Orleans (which New Orleans dealt to Cleveland in the 2014 off-season for Alonzo Gee) is protected for selections 31-55. If the Clippers' pick falls in that range, they get the pick. If it ends up being 56-60, the Cavaliers instead own the pick. The significance is that the Clippers need to own their own second-round pick in order to swap with Brooklyn, a poor team that figures to have one of the earliest selections in the second round. The difference between finishing 5th and 6th in the NBA in record could be the difference between pick 56 to Cleveland and pick 33 to LAC.
Now, this has a marginal relevance, of course. It's not worth losing games to get lower in the standings so that you have a shot at an early second-round pick. I sincerely hope that Doc and the front office is paying this issue no mind, because there's no worthwhile way to go about getting this pick. The pieces are going to fall as they will, and there's not much to be done about it. However, as fans, we can keep an eye on the standings to track the Clippers' ability to add an asset for next summer.
Currently, the Clippers are 4th in the West, but only one Eastern Conference team (Cleveland) has a better record than LAC. Hopefully, if the Clippers finish 4th, another EC team will pass them in W-L, bumping them to 6th overall. The ideal situation would be for the Clippers to jump the Oklahoma City Thunder for 3rd in the West, but have two Eastern teams finish ahead of them. It's unlikely, but there's a strong group of second-tier EC contenders just a tick behind the Clippers currently (Toronto, Atlanta, and Chicago are all two losses back, and Indiana and Miami are three losses back). If a couple of those five teams can emerge in the second half of the season, the Clippers could have a shot at adding an asset to either package in a trade or use to add a high second round talent on a minimum contract.
Like I said, and I can't stress this enough: I don't actually think that getting this second-round pick is worth any action by the Clippers to manipulate the standings. However, when you scoreboard watch, here's a reason to care about what happens in a bunch of games that don't normally matter. Keep rooting for the other top Western Conference teams to lose, but you should also want the top-tier Eastern teams to win. Come on Indiana, take down Phoenix tomorrow. And hopefully Chicago and Cleveland can take care of business against Milwaukee and Dallas tomorrow.
All in all, this is a piece of periphery minutiae that's unlikely to end up mattering. So, if you've been reading for a while, you shouldn't be surprised that I found it fascinating and wrote a column about it. Now you'll know what I'm talking about when I root heartily for Atlanta in their match-up with Denver in March.