Vinny Del Negro — who oversaw arguably the best Clippers season ever but left lingering doubts about whether he could take them any farther — will get a chance to prove he can.
The Clippers announced Tuesday that they have picked up the option year on Del Negro’s contract.
Chris Paul signed off on this, or at least he and his agency (CAA) didn’t stand in the way of it. No way it happens otherwise. Paul is entering the last year of his contract as well and the Clippers have to keep CP3 far more than they need to keep any coach. Also, Blake Griffin’s first extension to his rookie contract will be offered up this summer so he had some leverage. If they had asked for someone like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Van Gundy or even Mike Malone of Golden State they could have pressured the Clippers to make a move. It was reported that midseason GM Neil Olshey was ready to make a move (he has denied this, as he must).
I think Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN said it best (via twitter):
LAC buys itself 12 months. VDN a favorite of ownership. Paul/Griffin camps don’t feel strongly enough to be labeled coach-killers.
It’s a very Clippers owner Donald Sterling move to go with the guy he likes (and isn’t paying as much as he would have to an elite coach). That said Del Negro is far from safe. Next summer the Clippers need to get Paul re-signed and if he feels the team can’t win with Del Negro the coach will be gone. Without hesitation.
Del Negro led the Clippers to a 40-26 record and they knocked off the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. For a Clippers team used to planning lottery parties this time of year, it was a huge step forward.
But the Clippers run a simplistic offense that relies heavily on the pick-and-roll and Paul. When the Spurs in the second round cut that off and forced the Clippers to their counters and other sets, the offense stalled out. While management likely chalks that up to learning to win as a team, a lot of fans and others pointed at Del Negro’s offense.
And the Clippers were an inconsistent defensive team this year.
The job Del Negro was hired to do — help a young team grow on the path to winning — changed the day Paul arrived and the Clippers had the makeup of a contender on the rise. The Clippers are now where the Thunder were a year or two ago. The question now is if Del Negro is really enough of a coach to lift the Clippers up to the next level next season.
In Chicago Del Negro seemed to hit a barrier that Tom Thibodeau (and some good roster additions) broke through. Del Negro gets a second chance to prove he is that guy, but if he’s not the Clippers have set themselves back. And that one year setback could cost them very dearly.