Clippers crossroads: Is Vinny Del Negro’s job in danger?

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The Clippers are regressing.

They have gone 7-11 since Chauncey Billups went down with his Achilles injury and they have looked a mess, including a blowout loss to the Thunder Wednesday. The Clippers have not played good defense all season but early on their offense was able to overwhelm teams — Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll is one of the league’s great weapons.

Paul and Blake Griffin continue to play well but the cast around them has been a mess — in their last 10 games Clippers not named CP3 or Griffin are shooting just 39.5 percent. The team’s rotations are a mess — Bobby Simmons was finishing games for a while, Eric Bledsoe has played well off the bench but got a DNP-CD the other day, Randy Foye went from starting to DNP-CD when Nick Young arrived. Roles seem in flux.

Coach Vinny Del Negro is searching for answers, but there are whispers he may be seen as part of the problem. Bill Simmons of ESPN and Grantland — not known as a guy who breaks news but has done so in the past including Chris Paul to the Clippers — tweeted this Wednesday:

Heard today that Vinny Del Negro is on super-thin, could-go-any-day ice. A blowout loss in OKC tonight won’t exactly help… 2 things going in VDN’s favor: 1) Sterling is too cheap to pay for 2 coaches, and 2) can’t hire an interim coach for a playoff contender.

This somewhat falls in line with what I was told earlier in the season — the Clippers were in evaluation mode with Del Negro, they weren’t sure if he was the right guy but they wanted to give him a chance to prove he could do it, through the end of the season. However, that was before this current run of losses and ugly play, which may have changed the dynamics.

To be fair, the job Del Negro was hired to do has changed. He was hired to coach a young team led by Blake Griffin that needed to learn how to be professionals and start to win at the NBA level. The arrival of Chris Paul turned this team into a potential contender — now the job is about deep playoff runs and getting players to mesh around the team’s stars. About putting in sets that maximize strengths and hide weaknesses. And getting everyone to play defense. There is no evidence Del Negro can do all that.

He is clearly frustrated and went off after the loss to the Thunder Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Vinny Del Negro was mad — mad enough to be heard yelling at his Clippers in the locker room after the game, mad enough to admit to the media that he expressed his anger at his players….

“I’m big into how you approach games and how you compete,” Del Negro said. “We have to get the mentality of we have to play a certain way to win right now. And it has to be through our defense because we lack certain things. In order for us to score enough points to take pressure off of us, we have to be able to guard better.

“But our overall approach and everything to the game has to be better. That’s what is disappointing to me. We have to do a better job of being in the moment from the get-go and not waiting to get into the game.”

The question is, can Del Negro get this team to do those things? More and more it doesn’t look like he can.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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Did Russell Westbrook get mad at Steven Adams for not taking potential triple-double-clinching shot? (video)

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Russell Westbrook chases triple-doubles.

That hardly makes him unique. He’s just close enough to the feat more often than other players, so he chases them more often.

But he still chases them.

Late in the Thunder’s 108-91 win over the Warriors last night, Westbrook was heading toward his final line of 34 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. His teammates shot off his passes on three of Oklahoma City’s final four possessions before he took a seat (including one assist). The exception came when he passed to Steven Adams, who passed rather than shoot – clearly upsetting Westbrook.

Was Westbrook mad because he missed his chance at a triple-double? Maybe.

Was Westbrook mad because Adams passed as the shot clock neared expiration? Maybe.

It could be both!

Watch Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on Golden State’s bench. They clearly found something funny.

Report: Teams are calling Clippers about DeAndre Jordan trades

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Injuries have ravaged the Clippers. They started the season 4-0 have been without three starters from opening night: Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia injury, he is still in a walking boot), Danilo Gallinari (strained left glute), and now point guard Patrick Beverley is out for the season after microfracture surgery on his knee.

All this has led to the Clippers losing nine in a row before beating the Hawks Friday night. All the weight of the offense has fallen on Blake Griffin‘s shoulders, and while he’s been good most of the game in the fourth quarter his numbers have plummeted, and the Clippers have stumbled.

It’s left the Clippers with a couple of hard questions.

Do they need a coaching change? There was a sense from sources around the league that Rivers is already on his way out — he was stripped of GM/president powers over the summer — and what kept him around was the couple of seasons at $10 million a year on his contract. That’s a lot of money for an owner to eat, even Steve Ballmer, but the time may be coming as a way to shake up the team.

The other, what to do with DeAndre Jordan? They could not work out a contract extension with him (Jordan was acting as his own agent), and one of the league’s top traditional centers is a free agent next summer, but new head basketball guy Lawrence Frank said they want Jordan to be a “Clipper for life.” Does Jordan want to be a Clipper for life? Do the Clippers really want him back, and if so at what price? Does a Clipper franchise trying to get approvals for a new arena in Inglewood want to rebuild now, because it does not help that process? If it’s time to move on and rebuild, do they need to trade him now?

Teams are calling about Jordan, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

DeAndre Jordan, who can become a free agent after the season, has been coming up in trade conversations, with multiple teams talking potential trades. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said last month that Jordan will be a “Clipper for life,” muddled matters, as does the limited number of teams who need a center and the size of Jordan’s contract ($22.6 million).

Jordan is an All-NBA center, a defensive force in the paint who sets a strong pick, rolls hard to the rim, can finish with the best of them, and is averaging 10.4 points (scoring and attempts are down without Chris Paul feeding him) and 13.4 rebounds a game. Jordan knows who he is and plays within himself.

It’s not hard to imagine how he could help teams such as Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, and a host of others. The question is what would teams be willing to give up to get him — they have to send back salary to match, but will not want to give up assets that help them win now. The Clippers will be looking for good young players and picks back in the package, which makes it hard for a team such as Cleveland to put together a package.

But before they discuss trade scenarios, the Clippers need to figure out what they want to do. Life has come at them fast this season and led to a lot of big-picture questions that Frank and Ballmer need to answer.