Restricted Clippers hope to add some pieces in off-season

The Clippers will have limited resources to bolster their reserve corps in the off-season

After he heard his boss deliver a moving speech about persevering through repeated disappointment, a thought struck Clippers assistant coach Lawrence Frank.

Who was there to support Coach Doc Rivers through his distress?

So Frank called Rivers early Monday morning, only hours after the Clippers' season ended with back-to-back-to-back defeats in the Western Conference semifinals, to see whether he could offer a few comforting words.

"I said, 'Well, that's what my wife is for,'" Rivers recalled later in the day at the team's practice facility.

Ultimately, the greatest healing could come from what Rivers does in the coming months in his role as his team's president of basketball operations.

The Clippers are clearly in need of help after becoming only the ninth team in NBA history to squander a 3-1 lead in a playoff series, their overworked stars fatigued to the point that they couldn't execute a few inbounds passes in the season's final game.

Their thin bench not only failed to produce, being outscored for a third consecutive game in the series, but continued to lag in the trust department. Houston Coach Kevin McHale played his top three reserves a combined 65 minutes in Game 7 compared with a combined 46 minutes for the Clippers trio of Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Glen Davis.

"We're talking about the bench," Rivers told a throng of reporters who continually made it a talking point, "so I have to do a better job."

The Clippers will have limited resources to bolster their reserve corps regardless of whether they re-sign center DeAndre Jordan to a maximum five-year contract for an estimated $108.3 million, something that Rivers reiterated was his top priority.

"We don't need to go and get a max player, except for the one we have," Rivers said, referring to Jordan, who becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. "We need to add pieces, and it's going to be hard, because we are restricted."

Assuming Jordan re-signed with the Clippers, they would have only the so-called mini-midlevel exception of $3.37 million per year for up to three years to offer free agents plus a bevy of veteran's minimum contracts. Should Jordan depart, the Clippers could dangle the full midlevel exception of $5.4 million per year for up to four years.

Rivers said Jordan "loves it here" after blossoming under his guidance but acknowledged that was no guarantee Jordan would stay with the only team he has known in his seven NBA seasons.

"There's going to be a lot of teams coming after him that have money," Rivers said. "There's a lot of them that don't, thank God. That helps us."

Another free agent Rivers said he would target is his son Austin, the backup point guard who arrived via midseason trade from New Orleans. Because of arcane NBA rules the Clippers can offer him only $3.1 million next season, less than other suitors.

Of course, the Clippers also have a recruiting edge no other team can match.

"I'll call his mom," Doc Rivers quipped.

A trade is always a possibility, but the Clippers do not have any widely coveted players besides their star trio of Jordan, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They also don't have any tradable first-round picks before a conditional selection in 2019.

One avenue for improvement would be internal growth among the team's young players such as Austin Rivers, who is still only 22 despite having completed his third professional season.

The elder Rivers said rookie shooting guard C.J. Wilcox had a promising future despite barely playing this season. The coach also praised Jordan Hamilton's offense but said he was unsure whether the small forward could play the defense that would earn him a spot in the rotation.

Rivers said he would meet with each of his players individually and provide suggestions for off-season development. He called it "a big summer" for reserve forward-center Spencer Hawes, who is eager for a do-over after enduring the worst season of his career.

The Clippers do not have a draft pick this season because their first-round selection is going to Boston as part of Rivers' agreement to leave the Celtics and their second-round pick is headed to Denver to complete a 2009 trade for center Cheikh Samb.

But the Clippers could buy their way in should they feel compelled to chase what Rivers described as a pool of players deeper than expected. Lakers point guard Jordan Clarkson, named Monday to the NBA all-rookie team, showed the potential value of even a mid-second-round pick.

One intangible that could help the Clippers in their pitch to free agents is their status as a contender, albeit one that has never made it past the second round of the playoffs in its 45-year existence.

"You may be able to get players that wouldn't come here if you weren't close," Rivers said. "I found that when we were in Boston too. When we were bad, we couldn't get a guy. We couldn't get anyone. When we were good, all of a sudden you can get [players] at veteran minimums and you can get the best of that group. That's what we'll try to do."

It may be all they can do during a summer spent shopping largely on the margins.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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