Clippers primed for future: Reasons to get excited for next season

There is so much uncertainty ahead of them that even the Clippers players aren’t sure what will happen this summer or next fall.

But on the court, they seem emphatic: Bring back their core group and they can be even better next season.

"I think the future is bright," guard Jamal Crawford said. "But the sad reality is that there has to be a future and we’re not playing now."

The Clippers’ season ended Thursday night in a 104-98 loss to the Oklahoma City in Game 6 of their Western Conference semifinal. But if they dare look ahead, they can find plenty of reasons to be excited about next season, despite looming issues with their ownership.

There are going to be changes; no season ever passes without offseason tinkering. But after starting the season with training camp in San Diego under new coach Doc Rivers, the Clippers produced a franchise-best 57 wins, a second consecutive Pacific Division title and championship aspirations.

More important, they grew together.

"We were such a better team than the team we started with in training camp in San Diego," guard J.J. Redick said. "I’m looking forward to next year. I’m looking forward to hopefully having our core group of guys back together. We really grew a lot as a team, and the trust was starting to be cemented to the point where I thought we were a championship-level team."

Here are five areas that should keep the Clippers moving forward:

1. Coaching. Despite the turmoil surrounding franchise ownership, Doc Rivers said he has no intention of leaving. "I’m under contract," he said. "I have no plans of going anywhere, as far as I know."

Although two coaching assistants, Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue, are reportedly being considered for head jobs elsewhere, Rivers should have no problem finding capable replacements. Best of all, his return will give the Clippers a second full season to play in his system, which emphasizes ball movement and defense.

2. Together again. All five starters — Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes and Redick –€“ are under contract for next season. So are sixth man of the year Crawford, Jared Dudley, Willie Green and Reggie Bullock.

Three others, Darren Collison, Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Danny Granger have player options. Only Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Hollins are free agents.

That’s a good place for Rivers to start. He’ll need to find one or two big men to support Griffin and Jordan, but otherwise the Clippers look primed for the future.

"Hopefully, when we come back next season, most of that roster is still intact," Griffin said. "We’ll have that building block and a firm idea and understanding of who we are as a team and what we want to accomplish."

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3. Griffin’s growth. The Clippers forward went from a good player to an MVP candidate, improving by leaps and bounds in a number of areas. He developed a decent outside jump shot, worked to become a better face-up player and turned into a pretty good free-throw shooter. No one works harder than Griffin, and he plans to continue growing with a strong offseason regimen.

Kevin Durant won the league’s MVP this season. Could it be Griffin next season?

4. D as in D.J. Center DeAndre Jordan didn’t have a strong semifinal series against Oklahoma City, but his defensive improvement was one of Rivers’ biggest achievements as coach. When he took over last fall, Rivers’ first pronouncement was that Jordan could win defensive player of the year. He almost did.

Jordan accepted the challenge of becoming a formidable defender, improving his rebounding average from 7.2 to a league-leading 13.6 and his blocked shots from 1.4 to 2.5. He also called out defensive assignments.

Now, if Jordan could only improve his foul shooting.

5. Bench power. The Clippers have one of the best benches in the NBA, a credit to the work of Crawford and Collison. Through the season, however, they went through a variety of personnel changes, signing and discarding Byron Mullens, Antawn Jamison, Stephen Jackson, Darius Morris and Sasha Vujacic. They finally settled on Granger, Davis and Hedo Turkoglu, a solid group that had their productive moments.

The Clippers will need to add one or two big men, but Granger and Davis could be worth keeping.