Last summer, the Clippers approached forward Tobias Harris with an offer of a contract extension, one worth $80 million over four years. Harris turned it down, but he was hardly the only piece the team was looking to lock up for a longer term. LA gave two-year deals to guard Avery Bradley ($25 million) and forward Montrezl Harrell, a bargain at $12 million, and gave an in-season extension of three years and $24 million to guard Lou Williams.Additionally, a source told Sporting News, the Clippers also discussed an extension with guard Patrick Beverley, even as he was rehabbing from knee surgery. Like Harris, Beverley opted to play out his final season and test free agency next summer. MORE: How Clippers emerged from “Lob City” era better than everBut the Clippers’ approach to their roster over the past year shows that, even before the team got off to an impressive 16-7 start that has landed them in a tie for first in the West, the franchise was committed to this group of players and foresaw a base from which the rest of a contender could be built.That’s a remarkable turn for the Clippers, expected to need time to dig out of the underachieving wreckage of the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan era, which overlapped with the ugly, scattershot and tight-fisted reign of former owner Donald Sterling, who was removed in 2014 after recordings of him making racist remarks went public.Turns out, after blockbuster trades to dump Paul and Griffin, plus the free-agent departure of Jordan, the Clippers did not need to do all that much digging. Credit to coach Doc Rivers and general manager Lawrence Frank for recognizing that, and being aggressive in trying to keep the current roster in place.Just before the start of the season, Rivers pointed out that even without the star power of Paul, Griffin and Jordan, the Clippers were nicely set up for both present and future. The team has rebuilt its power structure, added a pair of 2018 lottery picks (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson) and cleared out future cap room to pursue free agents. “In a strange way, in my opinion, this is the healthiest this franchise has been as far as now and in the future,” Rivers said. “From my vantage point, I love where we are at right now. I look at the totality of what we have done. Think about, when I took over this job and the whole Sterling thing happened, I think we had four people upstairs making decisions. Now we have a group of 20. We’ve never had flexibility, ever. Now we have flexibility.”As a franchise, I think this is the healthiest it’s ever been.”That flexibility could yield the biggest impact in the coming year. The Clippers should have about $50 million in cap space next summer, more than enough to make a run at one of the league’s top free agents.MORE: Four reasons why Mavs find themselves in West playoff raceIn the past two months, as the Timberwolves scrambled to find a deal for guard Jimmy Butler, league sources said the Clippers made no significant push to acquire him, though he listed the Clippers as one of his preferred destinations. Minnesota was reluctant to trade Butler within the conference, and ultimately sent him to Philadelphia.The Clippers were dead-set against sending Tobias Harris to Minnesota in a Butler deal, a decision that’s paid off: Harris is having a career year, with 21.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, plus 42.2 percent shooting from the 3-point line. He could be a first-time All-Star this year.LA’s unwillingness to be aggressive in going after Butler was telling. The Clippers did not want to give away their flexibility by committing to Butler long-term before getting a sense of his fit, and they did not want to give up any assets to acquire him. Most of all, Rivers and Frank wanted to see how this team — a nice mix of promising youngsters, a budding star in Harris and tough-minded veterans — came together heading into 2019 free agency.Besides, the Clippers may have bigger targets in their sights. The team is keeping close watch on Kevin Durant’s happiness level with the Warriors and, according to league sources, has every intention of making a pitch to Durant in July. Durant is expected to give the Clippers a hearing. Moving to Los Angeles and setting up a crosstown rivalry with LeBron James and the Lakers is something Durant would at least have to consider. There’s also Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, a Southern California native who has excelled in Toronto in the early part of the season. Warriors guard Klay Thompson, too, will be a free agent, as will Bucks wing Khris Middleton.The Clippers will need to fork out much more than the $80 million they offered to Harris this summer to keep him in free agency, but they can still sign a top free agent and re-sign Harris. They’ll also look to re-sign center Boban Marjanovic and Beverley, who will also be free agents.It’s a good position for the franchise — set up to be a contender in the near future, but already winning now. Clippers brass foresaw the success. Just look at how they’ve treated their players in the last year-plus.