Clippers look at stars and find path

Sometime in the next few days, Los Angeles Clippers general manager Neil Olshey will make a convincing pitch to LeBron James.

He'll tell LeBron to look at all the Clippers' young, talented players. He'll tell LeBron that Blake Griffin projects to be better than anyone he's ever played with. He'll tell LeBron that he can become a global icon under the bright lights of Los Angeles.

And it will almost certainly be for naught.

The Clippers may not make a big splash come July 1, but that was never really the expected outcome in the first place. While everyone else had their heads in the clouds conjuring up images of different superstars in Clippers uniforms, Olshey stayed grounded and very quietly rebuilt the team behind the guise of the looming free-agency period.

In a sense, LeBron James has served as the world's greatest decoy.

Typically, things tend to get ugly when you trade your best player for cash. Marcus Camby is no Wayne Gretzky, but he was the best player for the Clippers last season and was moved for pocket change. Al Thornton and Sebastian Telfair, decent but not spectacular role players, were moved for even less. In normal circumstances, there would be absolute outrage; instead, every cap-cutting move was applauded because the Clippers were punching their ticket to the great free-agency bonanza of 2010. Never mind that landing LeBron -- or most of the other big stars -- was always unrealistic. That hardly seemed to matter, because the floundering franchise had finally located some direction.

With the draft completed, it's become clearer that the Clippers are no longer entrenched in win-now mode and truly are rebuilding. After drafting a raw 19-year-old talent in Al-Farouq Aminu and trading for one-and-done Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe, the Clippers have indicated through their actions that they're willing to be patient for their core to develop. The youth infusion has been quiet but definitely real – six of the eight players on the Clippers' roster are 21 years old or younger. After garnering poor results from their last big foray into free agency with Baron Davis, the team has seemingly shifted priorities to the development of the 21-and-under club.

The Clippers likely will retain that same youth-based focus throughout the summer. Their pitches to the big free agents will be out of pure obligation more than anything else. Instead of going big, they'll likely maintain a frugal approach to spending by bringing in players who are sure not to endanger the development of their young core.

But what of that precious cap room the Clippers worked so hard to acquire? In today's NBA, unused cap room is no longer a waste, but instead a valuable asset. The aforementioned Marcus Camby and Rasual Butler were both cap casualties that the Clippers acquired for little more than second-round draft pick swaps. Washington recently picked up Kirk Hinrich and a first-round pick from Chicago and gave up nothing in return. The possibilities with cap room in a cash-starved league are seemingly endless.

The Clippers' adopted formula appears to be based on patience and the slow acquisition of assets, and as the Oklahoma City Thunder and GM Sam Presti have proven, it's been shown to work for teams that may not be able to attract the biggest free agents due to small-market or ownership concerns.

There are still plenty of holes to be filled this offseason, but the days of the Clippers' grabbing whatever they could get their hands on seem to be long gone. Maybe it's not quite fit for a king, but the 21-and-under club should prove to be exclusive nonetheless.

D.J. Foster is a staff writer for Clipperblog.com and has contributed to ESPN.com's TrueHoop Network.