Clippers General Manager Neil Olshey says Blake Griffin, pictured, and… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
The phone calls began at 6 a.m. PST Wednesday, all of them giving Neil Olshey a positive vibe about where the Clippers stand as a potential destination for free agents.
It was easy for Olshey, the team's vice president of basketball operations, to figure out why players are interested in joining the Clippers, something he said has "escalated exponentially since this time last season."
They have seen the emergence of All-Star forward Blake Griffin. They have seen the play of shooting guard Eric Gordon, the young and talented roster, the new practice facility, the sunshine and blue sky in Los Angeles and the money the Clippers have to spend.
Though the new collective bargaining agreement has yet to be ratified, Olshey, in his first interview since the NBA lifted its media blackout on team personnel, sounded excited about his team's playoff possibilities.
"I don't think there's ever been a more pivotal time in the history of this organization," he said, referring to the team's flexibility under the salary cap, existing roster and a desire among other players to come to L.A. "From that perspective, all these crossroads are meeting at the same time. We've got to take advantage of it."
Olshey still has a lot of business to take care of in building the Clippers, and he began the process by calling player agents once the NBA allowed teams to make contact Wednesday.
Teams are not allowed to make agreements with free agents until the free-agency period and training camp begin Dec. 9.
Like the rest of the NBA's teams, the Clippers will open their facility, in Playa Vista, on Thursday to their players and any other NBA players in the area who want to work out.
Olshey reiterated that Griffin, 22, and Gordon, who will be 23 on Dec. 25, are the foundation.
'We've said from the beginning that Blake and Eric are the two building blocks for our franchise," Olshey said. "They are a great combination."
Griffin made the All-Star team last season and won the dunk contest.
The team picked up his $7.2-million option for the 2012-13 season and plans to sign him to an extension as league rules permit, starting July 1, 2012.
The pending CBA, which will reward overachievers still on their rookie contracts, could mean a financial windfall for the third-year player.
Under the new rule covering the maximum length of contracts, Griffin will be the Clippers' "designated player" for a rookie extension to receive a maximum salary; a team can have only one designated player on its roster.
It means the Clippers can offer Griffin a five-year, $93-million deal that starts at $15 million, with 7.5% raises each season.
"Blake Griffin, he's going be a star," Shaquille O'Neal said Wednesday in a phone interview. "The Clippers better pay him, I know that."
Olshey said he spoke with Gordon's agent, Rob Pelinka, Wednesday about a four-year extension for his client. Pelinka didn't return phone calls seeking a comment.
Gordon, who averaged 22.3 points last season, is in the final year of a deal that pays him $3.8 million.
"Eric knows that he's a priority," Olshey said. "So does Rob, and so do we."
The Clippers also plan to match any offer center DeAndre Jordan, a restricted free agent, might get.
The Clippers have about $13 million to spend on free agents; they have a payroll of $45 million, far below the salary cap of $58 million.
They had conversations Wednesday with free-agent small forwards Tayshaun Prince of the Detroit Pistons and Caron Butler of the Dallas Mavericks.
Memphis' Shane Battier could also be an option at small forward, a position Olshey said the Clippers "didn't get enough production" out of last season.
"I think when you look at things within a vacuum, I think that that's the position that we have the biggest question mark at," Olshey said.
"Clearly, everybody walks into every season with the goal of making the playoffs," he said. "And that's obviously our goal this year. We think that we're going to have the ability to do it."