The discussion around trading for a top 5 pick got me thinking, how have teams traded for a top 5 pick in the past? How highly do teams value these assets? Is it best to trade before or after the draft order is known? First, a data dump, then some quick thoughts.
2011. LA Clippers (8th before lottery) trade #1 pick for salary relief.
New Jersey (6th before lottery) trade #3 pick (and other assets) for Deron Williams.
Toronto (3rd before lottery) had reacquired their own pick (traded in 2009) one year before in the Chris Bosh sign and trade.
2008. Memphis (#5) and Minnesota (#3) swap draftees (Love and Mayo) and various detritus.
2006. New York (2nd before lottery) trades unprotected draft pick to Chicago for Eddy Curry. Chicago (#2) and Portland (#4) then swap draftees (Aldridge and Thomas).
2005. Portland (3rd after lottery) trades #3 pick to Utah for #6, #27, and a 2006 pick (#30).
2004. LA Clippers (2nd after lottery) swaps picks (and extras) with Charlotte (#4).
That gives us ten trades in eight years. Four of these deals involved teams in the top six swapping picks. Three involved teams swapping All-Star caliber players (DWilliams, Bosh, Allen) to a (would be) contender that happened to have a high pick. I can only assume that the reasoning behind the Eddy Curry, Antawn Jamison, and Mike Miller trades were the same. Each team thought they were in a position to contend, and was willing to give up a draft pick to get pieces to help in the immediate future. The Miller trade also was a way to dump the Songaila and Etan Thomas contracts.
Looking at this list, if one does not have an All-Star or a top 5 pick, then the best way to procure such a pick is to find a stupid GM and trade for unprotected picks before the lottery, ideally before the season. In the two best trades, Chicago obtained its NY pick before the season started and Cleveland obtained the Clippers pick when it was thought to fall in the 7-11 range. If a team does have a very good player it is willing to trade, then there must be a team in the top five that thinks it can contend, like Boston in 2007 or Washington in 2005 or 2009.
For Houston, lacking another high pick, the options seem to be to target mismanaged teams, and trade for future first rounders in exchange for "that missing piece" or salary relief, or find another contender that has lucked into a top 5 pick, and deal with them. But if you take away one thing, it is that it is very rare for a team to trade into the top of the draft on or around draft night. In the past eight years, no team has traded from #7 or lower into the top four after the draft lottery has taken place.