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Scott Howard-Cooper

Blake Griffin, Kevin Love
The Clippers (Blake Griffin) and Timberwolves (Kevin Love) are both looking up this season.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Clippers' trade of Draft pick looking good, thanks to Wolves

Posted Feb 1 2012 11:54AM

The Clippers catch another break. Typical. Everything always goes right for them.

Just when the Chris Paul blockbuster trade couldn't be any more of a win -- the credibility it brought, the marketing boost, the rise in the standings -- along come the Timberwolves. They are a developing story of their own, and that's working out perfectly for the Clippers.

These two teams' connection in the 2012 Draft had been years in coming. A previous general manager in Minnesota made a deal with a previous general manager in Los Angeles, and everyone was about to live with it, for better or worse, seven years later. Sam Cassell and a future first-round pick to the Clippers, Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers to the Timberwolves. That was on Aug. 12, 2005.

The first-round pick was for June 2012. It was unprotected and seemed destined for somewhere near the top of the board. After all, it was linked to the Timberwolves' fortunes, and Minnesota finishes among the worst records in the league under ordinary circumstances. This year, it so happens, was tending toward extraordinary: No summer league for the kids, Rick Adelman taking over and installing an entirely new system without benefit of a real training camp, Ricky Rubio joining the NBA without a normal transition.

The Clippers deal that pick away to New Orleans, in a trade for Paul, no matter what, of course. Once CP3 agreed to pick up his option for next season, rather than becoming a free agent in July and a one-season rental in L.A., the Clips were in.

But there was still a risk involved. The way the Timberwolves were looking -- building, but needing time to find their footing -- the choice the Clippers sent to New Orleans could easily have been in the 1-2-3 range in what projects as the best Draft in years.

(The Clippers, remember, had just dealt a pick in 2011 to Cleveland -- along with Baron Davis for Mo Williams -- that became No. 1 Kyrie Irving. Yes, the Clippers could have been the team that traded away the top pick in the Draft two years in a row.)

Again, L.A. does the deal anyway. They take Chris Paul, pair him with Blake Griffin, re-sign DeAndre Jordan and begin plotting into the next decade.

But it could have looked bad if things didn't work out with Paul or Griffin, and if the pick they dealt to New Orleans had come up near the top of the Draft board.

Except the season started and everything changed. And to the Clippers' benefit, of all things. Rubio made an immediate impact. Without saying a word, Adelman showed why he has long been an underappreciated coach. Kevin Love was better than ever. The Timberwolves won.

The Timberwolves have been winning with such regularity, in fact, that with the season nearly one-third complete, they are a respectable and encouraging 10-11. Twelve teams have a worse record. The unprotected first-rounder is being de-valued by the week. The Clippers look better every minute.

"Much like last year when we moved a pick to acquire Mo Williams and clear cap space for this summer, we play our own ball and don't look at what might have been or what might be," Neil Olshey, the Clippers vice president of basketball operations, said of the updated perspective. "The Timberwolves, like us, are fighting for a spot in the playoffs, and I follow the outcome of their games as I do all other teams in the Western Conference for that purpose only."

Not to track the Draft choice, in other words.

That job belongs to the Hornets now as part of a rebuilding job that has now reached 4-17. New Orleans is one of the favorites in a tight race for worst record in the league and the best chance at the No. 1 pick, with the bold-face disclaimer that odds do not historically translate to actually getting the first selection. But the Draft has changed no matter what as the Timberwolves start standing on opponents' shoulders.

At this rate, New Orleans having two picks in the top four or five -- the way the Cavaliers did in 2011 thanks to a trade with the Clippers -- is a long shot. The Hornets could still have a pair of lottery choices, and something in the second half of the lottery will be especially valuable if June 28 holds up as a deep draft.

But it's strange how things have turned out. Now the Timberwolves -- who once almost relocated to the Big Easy -- are messing with other people's fortunes. And the Clippers are cashing in.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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