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Clippers Off-Season 2016: A Youth Shake-Up is Coming

There's a lot of chatter about big-time blockbuster moves, but there's a minor trade that the Clippers are almost sure to make.

Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

As the Clippers head into the off-season, there's been a lot of talk about some really, really big time trades--the type of deals that would shake the entire NBA landscape.  People are obsessed with blowing up this LAC core (something that I am adamantly against), and everyone is focusing on potential return packages for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and/or DeAndre Jordan.

It's time to turn away from the far-fetched hypothetical talk and focus on more concrete trade ideas.  While I certainly can't rule out the possibility of a big-time trade, I wouldn't point to it as particularly likely.  What I would point to as particularly likely is a trade involving the Clippers' prospects and draft picks.  It's not as sexy, and the return certainly isn't as exciting, but a trade along these lines is almost bound to happen in the coming months.

Why?  It's simple.  In the NBA, a team is only allowed to carry 15 players on their roster.  Even prospects who are assigned to the NBA D-League count towards a team's 15-man roster.  Now, it's safe to assume that with the presumptive return of at least Austin Rivers OR Jamal Crawford (and possibly both), all of the Clippers' SG minutes will be taken up before time is available for C.J. Wilcox--and even without them, his ability to be a rotation player is questionable at best.  Similarly, Branden Dawson has shown no signs of being anywhere near ready for NBA rotation minutes, and while I'd love for the Clippers to find immediate impact players with their draft picks (25 and 33), I'd prefer that they not bet on it, filling rotation spots with more reliable players and letting the rookies grow into them if they are good enough.

What you're left with is four young prospects who aren't ready to be in the rotation yet, taking up nearly a third of the Clippers roster and severely impacting the team's ability to add capable depth.  While some would argue that turning to and developing youth in case of injury and foul trouble is more productive long-term than turning to experienced veteran depth, Doc Rivers has shown that he cares far more about doing what is best for the team at the moment than giving a few minutes to incapable prospects.

It's possible for the Clippers to dodge ending up trading these prospects, but it would take some combination of cutting Dawson (whose contract is fully non-guaranteed) and likely using at least one of the draft picks on a European player who can be stashed overseas for the immediate future--allowing him to develop while the Clippers retain his rights, but without costing the Clippers a roster spot for the 2016-17 season.

The most likely outcome, of course, is for some combination of these assets to be involved in one or more trades before all is said and done.  Any of the four could be thrown in to sweeten the pot in bigger deals, but Wilcox and the picks likely have standalone value as well.  The Clippers reportedly turned down a swap that would land them Tony Snell for Wilcox at the deadline, and an opportunity of that kind to turn C.J. into a rotation-level player at a position of need could be worth capitalizing on this summer.  LAC could also seek to turn picks 25 and 33 into a higher pick, or into a rotation player.  There's plenty of precedent for teams to package multiple lower picks to move up to one higher selection, as well as for teams that like a prospect available at a given pick to dangle a second-unit guy or player that's redundant on their roster to trade into the draft.

No matter what happens, there's guaranteed to be intrigue surrounding how the Clippers manage their young players in the coming months.  I can only hope that more moves are made involving these four than involving the Clippers' core four.