Clippers hope to have star duo back

Updated: May 22, 2012, 1:28 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Clippers season may have ended painfully as their two stars -- Chris Paul and Blake Griffin -- were plagued by injuries in their second-round playoff series loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

The Clippers offseason, though, began on a rather hopeful note.

Both Paul and Griffin stopped short of committing to the organization long term, but noticeably offered some encouraging words about their intentions before leaving for the summer.

Griffin Hearing all the things everybody hears about the Clippers, since I've been here, it hasn't been that way. It's been positive. And that's something that's huge for me, with my decision.

-- Blake Griffin on Clippers franchise

"One thing I'll say is everything that's happened since I've been here has been a step in the right direction, in my opinion," Griffin said about whether he'll sign an extension with the club on July 1st.

"What we as players want to see done, management has done. It's a great place to play. That's something I really respect. Hearing all the things everybody hears about the Clippers, since I've been here, it hasn't been that way. It's been positive. And that's something that's huge for me, with my decision."

Griffin is eligible to sign either a four- or five-year extension with the club on July 1st and the organization has made no secret that it will offer it to him.

Team president Andy Roeser told ESPNLosAngeles.com late Sunday night that "ultimately I believe those two players (Griffin and Paul) are going to play out their careers here."

Griffin stopped short of making that a fait accompli, saying that he needed time to mull the situation, but still praising the organization's efforts to build a winner around him since he arrived in 2009.

There are two issues for Griffin to consider: whether he's seen enough in his three years with the organization to commit to signing an extension; and if so, how long that extension would be?

While he'd be eligible for a five-year, maximum contract extension with an opt-out after four years, several young superstar players -- Kevin Love being the most notable -- have chosen to sign four-year extensions with an opt-out after three seasons.

Should Griffin choose not to sign an extension with the Clippers, he would become a restricted free agent after next season.

Paul, who opted into his contract for next year as a show of good faith to the Clippers following his trade from the New Orleans Hornets in December, is under contract for only one more season. He would be eligible to sign a contract extension this summer as well, and the organization would of course be willing to offer it, but the economics of the new collective bargaining agreement make it more favorable for him to do so after the 2013 season.

But he was also talking like a man who saw a long-term future for himself with the organization on Monday.

Asked directly if that was the case, Paul said, "I hope so. We'll see. Right now I'm talking about right now and that's all I can control."

A source close to the situation told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Sunday night that Paul, who purchased a house in Los Angeles shortly after he was traded, has given the team some initial indications that he intends to stay long term as well.

Still, it is believed that both players are curious to see what the organization will be able to do to bolster the roster this offseason. The team clearly needs help at the shooting guard position and consistent outside shooters who can space the floor.

"We got exposed a little bit with our size at the (shooting guard position)," Clippers GM Neil Olshey said. "We need to get more of a traditional 2-guard. One that can guard size with a post game."

Shooting guard was something of an ad hoc affair for the Clippers this season after they had to include Eric Gordon in the trade for Paul. Chauncey Billups -- normally a point guard -- started the season at the 2, but went down with a season-ending Achilles injury in early February. After that, Randy Foye became the starter with Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe -- both of whom are point guards -- coming off the bench. At times, the Clippers even went with a three-guard lineup.

Olshey also said the team would look to add a third big man to complement Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan. This season the Clippers front court rotation consisted of Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin.

"We're going to add a third big that can stretch the floor," he said. "I think we became a little bit predictable late in the season. We were such a power team. We kind of looked like we were playing hockey at times -- throwing it up on the glass and trying to go get it.

"We'll address those things via trade or via free agency. The nice thing was, playing two separate series; Memphis played one game, it was a rugby match and we won that one. We got into a chess match with San Antonio and we lost. So it gives us a window into where our strengths and weaknesses are, and we'll shore them up."

Olshey said that Paul will again act as the Clippers "chief recruiter." After Sunday night's loss to San Antonio, Paul even called Olshey on his drive home and started going over what the team needed to add in the offseason to give itself a better chance of winning next season.

"He's all in," Olshey said. "Having two superstar players that believe in the organization make it easy to know that you're going to commit the resources with the right players."

The Clippers currently have approximately $59 million committed to players next season, if Williams does not opt out of his $8.5 million contract for next season (Williams told ESPNLA.com Sunday night that he is not planning to opt-out). If, as expected, the salary cap remains flat from this season's $58.4 million, that would put the team slightly above the salary cap.

The Clippers have formulated two scenarios for their offseason. One for if Williams opts out and they are below the salary cap, one for if Williams does not opt out and they are slightly above the salary cap.

Foye, Martin, Evans, Billups, Bobby Simmons and Nick Young are all unrestricted free agents. They do not have a first-round pick, either. So any moves will have to be made via free agency or trade.

"Last year was kind of laying the foundation," Griffin said of his rookie year in 2010-11. "Obviously we didn't make the playoffs last year but I think it was a step in the right direction in terms of how we played and the way we did things. Bringing in the guys we did this year, with Chris coming in, Chauncey, Caron, that was the next step.

"We have to keep going on from there."

Who is coaching those players is another story. The team has until June 1 to decide whether to pick up the option on Vinny Del Negro's contract. Neither Olshey nor Del Negro would comment on it Monday, saying they were still downloading how the season ended and where the team needed to go from here. They plan to meet in the next several days.

"I'm not gonna get into all my contract stuff," Del Negro said. "It's a waste of energy and whatever I say, you're not gonna listen anyway, so it doesn't matter."

Del Negro has spent two seasons as Clippers coach. Hired in July 2010, he's compiled a regular-season record of 72-76 and a playoff record of 4-7.

Del Negro came under fire in March after the Clippers lost home games to Golden State and Phoenix, then went on the road and lost to Indiana, Oklahoma City and New Orleans. But the Clippers responded to the challenge by finishing the year 14-5 and knocking off the Memphis Grizzlies in a grueling seven-game first round playoff series.

"It was never about us splintering," Del Negro said of his team's recovery from its midseason swoon. "It was about us figuring out how we could use 1everybody. There were so many new players and no practice time. A lot of things were being done during games and that makes it a little bit harder trying to manage the personalities.

"I give the players credit. We were overloaded in certain positions because of the roster. They knew that. Also just trying to manage minutes and keeping everybody pulling the same direction is always a challenge. I think overall we were able to manage that.

"It's a players league. The players determine a lot. I'm proud of my coaching staff for the work they put in. They stuck together and did a great job with the younger players. I thought the assistants did a fabulous job."

Pedro Moura contributed to this report.

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