What’s certain: For the first time since 2018, the Clippers enter the NBA Draft with their own first-round pick. They’re slated to select a prospect at No. 25 on Thursday when the league’s annual selection show will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and air on ABC and ESPN starting at 5 p.m.
What’s not: What else the Clippers could have up their sleeve. The team’s front office has proved aggressive and creative on recent draft nights, swapping picks, prospects and established players in an effort to improve the roster.
A roster that last season went deeper into the postseason than any team in franchise history, finally reaching the Western Conference finals, where they lost in six games to former Clipper Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns.
Since the Clippers’ season ended June 30, star forward Kawhi Leonard has undergone surgery on a partially torn right anterior cruciate ligament that kept him from playing in his team’s final eight playoff games.
Now, the wait is on to see how long his recovery will take – and, yes, whether he’ll opt in or opt out of the final year of his $36 million contract. And if he does opt out, whether he’ll entertain offers from other teams? If so, whether he’ll stick with the Clippers, who sacrificed substantially to pair Leonard with his fellow Southern California native Paul George before the 2019-20 season.
So far, there have been no indications that Leonard plans to depart, according to long-tenured NBA insiders such as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
But before any of those big, pressing questions can be addressed, the Clippers have that 25th overall pick to consider.
The Clippers don’t announce which prospects audition for them in pre-draft workouts, but a handful of names have emerged either via their own social media posts, other internet sleuthing or regional reporting.
Among them: Arizona State guard Josh Christopher (Mayfair High), Auburn point guard Sharife Cooper, Duke forward Matthew Hurt, Houston guard Quentin Grimes, Virginia Commonwealth guard Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland, Florida guard Tre Mann, West Virginia guard Miles “Deuce” McBride, UC Santa Barbara guard JaQuori McLaughlin and Hillcrest Prep small forward Kyree Walker.
Thank you @LAClippers for the opportunity
— Kyree walker (@kyreewalker1) July 13, 2021
Honor to meet The Logo and WVU legend Jerry west! pic.twitter.com/J0inKYpIgm
— M11es McBride (@deucemcb11) July 15, 2021
There’s a general sense that the Clippers will want to bolster their backcourt. Guard Reggie Jackson, a breakout star last season, is a free agent. Neither Patrick Beverley nor Luke Kennard have emerged as facilitators capable of really taking the load off Leonard and George, and veteran Rajon Rondo wasn’t the play-making answer in the postseason that the Clippers hoped when they traded Lou Williams to Atlanta for him midseason.
In its mock draft, Sports Illustrated has the Clippers selecting the 6-foot-1 Cooper, who is known for his passing and handle (and whose sister is Sparks point guard Te’a Cooper – teammate of Nia Coffey, who is the older sibling of Clippers wing Amir).
The Athletic likes Rokas Jokubaitis, an experienced 20-year-old guard who withdrew from consideration from the 2020 draft to spend another season with his Lithuanian team Zalgiris.
The Ringer predicts the Clippers could choose Florida’s Mann because the 6-3 shooter has the potential to help generate offense that, without Leonard (and possibly Jackson), could be paramount.
CBS Sports predicts Illinois shooting guard Ayo Dosunmu – a capable 6-5 on-ball defender – could find a home on Tyronn Lue’s team.
But L.A. also could look inside, for another center capable of playing in Lue’s successfully switchy small ball lineups – someone such as Spanish forward Usman Garuba, a 6-8 energy guy who has played for Real Madrid (and who Dime projects as the Clippers’ pick).
Another option in the post, per ESPN’s mock draft board: Day’Ron Sharpe, also a nonstop-motor guy who checks in at 6-10 and 265 pounds and was a fan favorite in his one season at North Carolina.
Whether the Clippers focus on the frontcourt or the backcourt with their pick, expect they’ll expand their view to consider any number of other possible moves.
Recall the 2020 draft last November, when they started the evening with the 57th pick – a springboard, it turned out, for an intricate series of transactions that included two other teams (Detroit and Brooklyn), six rostered players, the draft rights to four others, as well as five future picks and cash.
In the end, the Clippers landed Kennard and Jay Scrubb and four future second-round picks, trading away Landry Shamet and Rodney McGruder.
And that wasn’t all. L.A. also acquired the draft rights to Daniel Oturu from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the draft rights to Mathias Lessort and a second-round pick from Detroit.
So the Clippers will start Thursday with the 25th pick, but their fans might want to stay tuned after that selection, because the way the Clippers operate, things are always subject to change.