Coming off of the best season in franchise history, the Los Angeles Clippers will look to take the next step in 2013 by advancing at least as far as the Western Conference finals.
Though the Clippers were unceremoniously swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of this playoffs, the Clips have the ability and the opportunity to progress to the next stage of their journey toward a first NBA championship.
To start with, the Clippers have an excellent foundation. The team is built on the shoulders of All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Having two of the 10 best players in the league—including the best point guard on the planet—on your side never hurt's your team's chances.
Next, factor in the team improving from within. Yes, Griffin has already elevated him to Second Team All-NBA status, but he has only been in the league two years. He's still improving and has a lot of room to grow, especially when it comes to shooting the basketball more than six feet away from the hoop.
Griffin has company when it comes to improving with age and experience. Fellow big man DeAndre Jordan will enter his second season as the team's full-time starting center. Jordan has improved every year in his career and has the raw tools to develop into an elite paint protector.
Also ready to come into his own is 22-year-old Eric Bledsoe, who showed flashes of absolute brilliance in the postseason. Though his primary role will be backing up Paul, the Clippers featured a lot of three-guard lineups, and the combination of Bledsoe and Paul on the floor together can give a lot of teams matchup nightmares.
With seven players from last year's squad hitting free agency this summer, the Clippers will have space to fill out their roster with role players they feel are necessary to advance their cause.
Although L.A. isn't blessed with a heap of cap space this offseason, they still have a chance to sign one or two high-impact free agents in addition to re-signing some of 2012's more valuable contributors.
As last December's acquisition of Chris Paul signified, the Clippers now have to be considered major players to collect stars via trade. They still have some valuable trade chips in promising youngsters like Jordan and Bledsoe, plus a luxury role player in Mo Williams who gains extra value in the trade market this season thanks to his sizable-yet-not-crippling $8.5 million expiring contract.
It's clear that the Clips are poised to improve themselves. When you factor in their likely competition, their road to the conference finals gets even clearer.
The Clippers made it to the final four of the West this season. Among the other three teams, you can pencil the Thunder into the Western Conference finals with their core group of young guns. However, both the Spurs and the Lakers are on the decline, even though neither proud franchise will admit it.
With Father Time inevitably slowing down the aging stars in San Antonio and L.A., the Clips are in prime position to leapfrog both of them and vie with OKC for Western Conference supremacy.
The only threats posed from below come from the Memphis Grizzlies (a team the Clippers just defeated in this postseason) and the Utah Jazz (a team still a trying to figure out if it wants to keep being a decent team or totally hit the reset button and try to build a juggernaut a la Oklahoma City).
When you consider the improvements the Clippers will make internally and externally and then add in L.A.'s competitive advantage over their Western foes, it's easy to make the ease that the Los Angeles Clippers will reach the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history in 2013.