Clippers looking to improve next season


Listen to what Chris Paul offered as a key step for the Clippers to improve next season after a successful 2011-12 campaign.

“First of all, I know one thing that can get us better is I have to get better,” Paul, a first-team NBA all-defensive selection, said Monday. “It starts with each one of us individually.”

Translation: There are times when the best improvements a team can make come from within.

That means every player taking stock in his physical condition, and to be ready when training camp begins in October.

But that doesn’t mean the Clippers won’t look for some outside help.

“The core pieces are there,” Neil Olshey, the Clippers’ vice president of basketball operations, said Monday. “We have the two building blocks with Chris and Blake [Griffin].”

Olshey then outlined what the Clippers need.

“We need to get more of a traditional [shooting] guard, one that can guard size with a post game,” he said. “We’re going to need to add a third big [man] that can stretch the floor…We’ll address those via trade, via free agency.”

The Clippers have nine players who are currently under contract for the 2012-13 season, for a payroll of $59 million.

In addition, there are several free agents from this past season:

--Chauncey Billups, who suffered a season-ending left Achilles’ tendon injury in February, wants to play again and hopes it’ll be with the Clippers. The Clippers are interested, though Billups probably won’t be ready to play until January.

--Randy Foye had a solid season replacing Billups as the shooting guard. Foye wants to return, but he might have to leave to get playing time.

--Reggie Evans became a cult hero among Clippers fans. The Clippers probably will bring him back.

--Veteran Kenyon Martin’s preference is to be a starter. He wanted more playing time than he got; Martin probably will move on.

--Nick Young provided the Clippers with scoring off the bench. He and the Clippers want to make a deal.

The Clippers don’t have a first-round draft pick, having sent that to New Orleans in the Paul deal, only a second-round pick (53rd) in the June draft.

The Clippers can use the mid-level exception of $5 million a season to sign a player for up to four years. They can also use the bi-annual exception that starts at $1.9 million in the first year of a two-year deal.

There will be some notable free agents available.

Boston guard Ray Allen will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Clippers had an interest in shooting guard J.R. Smith, but he signed with the New York Knicks. Smith has a player option at $2.6 million for next season that he is expected to opt out of.

Boston forward Kevin Garnett will be an unrestricted free agent, as will New Orleans power forward Carl Landry and Cleveland’s Antawn Jamison.

Lamar Odom made $8.2 million despite the Dallas Mavericks’ sending him home in early April and putting him on the inactive list for the remainder of the season. The Mavericks can buy out Odom from his 2012-13 contract for $2.4 million, making him an unrestricted free agent.

The coup de grace for the Clippers this summer would be to see if they can acquire disgruntled Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. It would certainly be a way to show Griffin and Paul how serious they are about building a championship team.

However, the big risk for the Clippers -— besides Howard’s having back surgery — is not knowing if he would sign a contract extension.