May 21, 2013, 3:07 PM EDT
Clippers owner Donald Sterling created a little stir when he was near the court watching Game 1 between the Spurs and Grizzlies Sunday — he didn’t bother to attend all of his own team’s playoff games, why was he suddenly at this one? Was he scouting potential coaches such as the Grizzlies Lionel Hollins or the Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer? Did this mean Vinny Del Negro was in trouble?
The Clippers have let go of coach Vinny Del Negro. It was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. The Clippers have since confirmed that. Del Negro’s contract was set to expire, the Clippers will not offer him a new one.
And as we all expected, what free agent to be Chris Paul wanted played a hand in this, Wojnarowski said.
Despite considerable success and progress in his two seasons as coach, Del Negro was unable to withstand a first-round Western Conference loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and a free agent-to-be superstar, Chris Paul, who wanted a different coach, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. Del Negro did not have a contract beyond this season.
The Clippers need to do whatever they have to do to keep CP3. Coaches can be replaced, elite talent is much harder to find. You don’t have to like it but it is the way of the world.
This opens up the most attractive coaching position in the NBA — a coach can over a team on the verge of competing for a title. A team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and talented role players such as Jamal Crawford. While Stan Van Gundy said he was sitting this year out this is the kind of job that might change his mind. A lot of top coaches would like it — but will Sterling pay the top dollar to get one of them? You know Chris Paul will have a say in this decision (he likes Warriors top assistant Mike Malone, too).
This isn’t a huge surprise — while the Clippers won 56 games and their first ever division title, they disappointed in the playoffs and there was a sense around the league (and in some parts of the Clippers hierarchy) that they really accomplished all that in spite of Del Negro, not because of him. The one thing Del Negro had in his corner is that Sterling liked him, but in the end that wasn’t enough.
Del Negro ran pretty basic offensive sets with the Clippers — which if you have Paul running the show is not a bad call. Defensively the Clippers threw a variety of different looks at teams, but they kind of were the jack-of-all-trades and the masters of none. Del Negro and staff had some nice plays and designs set up for the start of their playoff series against the Grizzlies, but when Hollins made adjustments by Game 3 there were no good counters from the Clippers. Then when Griffin got hurt and was slowed the series was all but over.
Reportedly there was one team with an open coaching position interested in interviewing Del Negro. Which means there is one team out there willing to see how angry they can make their fan base.