Clippers let go of Vinny Del Negro as coach

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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?

Yes.

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.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.