The L.A. Clippers have a gross little recent history of trading unprotected first-round picks. In 2011, the Clippers included an unprotected first in a cost-cutting deal swapping Baron Davis for Mo Williams. The pick was for ... the 2011 draft. The Clippers were 21-37 at the time, and destined for the lottery, where, you know, every team has some chance of winning the No. 1 pick. It turns out that the Clippers finished with the eighth-worst record that season, giving the pick a 2.8 percent chance of becoming No. 1 overall. And lo! it became No. 1 overall, which became Kyrie Irving, who was an All-Star by his sophomore season and is on track to be one of the league's elite players.
That is why you don't trade unprotected firsts in shrugworthy trades like salary cap dumps.
The Clippers sent an unprotected 2015 first-round pick to the Celtics on Sunday as compensation for the rights to hire coach Doc Rivers, but in this case, it's warranted. This is not a shrugworthy trade, no matter what you think about Doc.
Reports suggest that Chris Paul, a free agent one week from Monday, wanted Doc. Reports suggest that when a Doc deal fell apart last week, CP3 became angry. CP3 can decide whether to quickly re-sign with the Clippers on July 1, to stretch it out and flirt with other teams, or to actually leave Los Angeles. Having completed a deal for Doc, it looks like the Clippers have guaranteed it'll be Door No. 1, which is a door to a new five-year deal for the All-NBA point guard.
Guaranteeing an elite point guard re-signs for a long-term contract through the prime of his career is one of those rare good times to go ahead and unload an unprotected first, if that's the only way it gets done. Such a move comes with an inherent bonus: the likelihood of a Chris Paul-Blake Griffin team falling into the lottery within two years is pretty small. (It's not zero. Look how close the Lakers came to the lottery in 2013. They had sent an unprotected first to Phoenix in the Steve Nash deal. Can you imagine anyone in L.A. considered it remotely possible they'd get burned by that? So, again, the likelihood for the Clippers to be burned is not zero.)
As it turns out, Doc also happens to be a pretty good coach, so there's benefit beyond keeping CP3. For a pick that should be in the 20s, this is a good haul and not really comparable to the Baron-Mo-Kyrie disaster.
That said, since Kevin Garnett didn't come along in the deal and, according to SB Nation's Paul Flannery, will not be coming to L.A. at any point this year because of the Doc move, the Clippers still need to find ways to improve the roster from an edition that was bounced in the first round. There's now one fewer asset to use in that quest.