With two valuable draft picks, and a couple other tradable pieces (C.J. Wilcox and Branden Dawson), it makes a lot of sense for the Clippers to try and trade up in this year's draft. The pressure is definitely on for the team to find a contributor with limited off-season flexibility and an entire bench unit to replace, and in a draft that, by all accounts, should be shallow on stars but deep with role players, the Clippers really need to come up with a role player.
The issue with trading up, of course, is that someone has to be willing to trade down. Assuming the Clippers aren't going to do anything crazy with one of their core players, their best offer is probably 25+33+C.J. Wilcox. Looking at the draft order, I'm fairly confident that those pieces won't get them into the lottery. Here's the outlook at the other picks:
15-Denver: The Nuggets have three first-round picks, meaning they'll likely have to use at least one on a draft-and-stash prospect. If the Clippers can pry 15 for 25 and C.J., the Nuggets can get a stash guy they like in the 20's (there aren't a lot of options on that front in the teens) and add some cheap shooting on the bench.
16-Boston: The Celtics have a billion picks, which makes this selection at 16 really attainable. But, they have a billion picks, making the possibility of diluting their selections unattractive. Do the Celtics love C.J. Wilcox? Probably not enough to move down 9 spots. Boston will have the busiest war room this year, as they're guaranteed to make a bunch of moves rather than making all eight of their picks, so I'd keep an eye on this one--because you never know who ends up with it, or what Boston's overall situation will be.
17-Memphis: If the Grizzlies are going re-build (and they might be, having dumped Jeff Green and Courtney Lee for picks at the deadline, and with Mike Conley potentially leaving in free agency), why not take two shots in the draft instead of one? This selection at 17 is their only pick, and swapping it for 25/33 could help them infuse their roster with some youth--not to mention that C.J. Wilcox's shooting would probably be attractive to them.
18-Detroit: The Pistons need a lot of help getting NBA-caliber players onto their roster to replace a second unit that was one of the worst in the league last year. Can C.J. Wilcox join Reggie Bullock on Detroit's bench? Would Stan Van Gundy give up the 18th pick in order to get 2 lower selections that could mean more young talent on the roster? My favorite trade proposal is 25+33+C.J. for 18+49. I'm right on the border of liking it, and if I were in charge I'd be waiting until I saw who slid on draft night before deciding to pull the trigger or not--and that's probably about as realistic as a potential draft-night trade can get.
19-Denver: This is the more attainable of Denver's two picks in the teens, although if they want all three of the Clippers' assets I'd hold out for the higher of the two. A straight-up swap of 25+33 for 19 could be realistic here depending on what the board looks like for both teams, and if Denver has already picked a stash guy, or has two impact guys and is looking to move this pick.
20-Indiana: We're starting to get into the not-worth-it range here, where the guy who you can get at 20 isn't enough of an upgrade over 25 to be worth also giving up 33. If someone the front office loves has slipped to 20 but won't make it to 25, pull the trigger and get him. Otherwise? Play the lotto twice instead of once.
21-Atlanta: (See: 20-Indiana).
22-Charlotte: This 22nd pick is Charlotte's only selection, so it's easy to see why they'd slide down a few slots to get a chance at a second prospect. It would require some really special circumstances to be worthwhile from the Clippers' perspective, and they might take a shot at getting something else out of the Hornets in a deal like this.
23-Boston: This pick will almost definitely be for sale. If a team like New York or Brooklyn wants to get into the draft badly enough to give up something of value, like a role player, #23 will change hands on draft night. If that doesn't end up happening, the Clippers could swoop in and offer 25 and a future protected second-rounder, but Boston's likely to take a stash guy here anyway.
24-Philly: The Sixers' pick could also be for sale, as they also own the 26 and are sure to be wheeling and dealing to get their guys. It's hard to imagine the Clippers giving up anything of worth to move up one spot unless the guy they love has slid to 24, and they know that Philly is going to take him.
Overall, the notion of trading up in the draft at the Clippers' stage is scary. With the relative parity and depth that's expected from this draft class, it's very easy to argue that playing the lottery twice, at 25 and 33, is more likely to bring success than picking better numbers in the 18-22 range. The Clippers have gotten lucky before, nabbing DeAndre Jordan at 35, but they've also walked away with countless guys like Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins, for whom holding onto a late pick would be worthless. They've traded for a pick in the teens to take Eric Bledsoe, but the 18th pick is far from a sure thing. Those examples aren't Clipper-specific: the dilemma applies to every team, and every team has missed on high picks and hit on low picks. Ultimately, it will come down to who slides, and who the Clippers like. Perhaps what makes it scariest of all is that if, for example, Timothy Luwawu slides and the Clippers try to trade for 18 to nab him, they'll only be able to pull it off if Detroit doesn't like him, a sign that he's not a surefire pick.
These teams are sure to be on the phones ahead of time, working out contingent deals and feeling out the market in case the right guy becomes available at the right pick. Despite all of that preparation, however, the ultimate decision between trading up or staying pat will come in a high-pressure situation with the clock ticking and only seconds to decide whether or not to pull the trigger.
So, even though the column is "Should the Clippers trade up?", the answer isn't really yes or no. It's maybe. On June 23rd, they'll watch the selections come in, they'll work the phones, and they'll cross names off of their big board, waiting for the right moment to come (or not) to make a move.