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.

Unstoppable Meyers Leonard drops 25 on Warriors in first half (VIDEO)

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Stephen Curry had an I-don’t-want-to-play-Game-5 kind of first half for Golden State, scoring 25 points and hitting 5-of-7 from three.

However, he was the second best player on the court because Meyers Leonard held that crown.

Yes, Meyers Leonard.

He had 25 points of his own on 10-of-12 shooting.

Fans broke out a “Mey-ers Leon-ard” chant.

All that had Portland up 69-65 at the half in a defense-optional Game 4 where it is win-or-go-home for the Trail Blazers.

Knicks Frank Ntilikina reportedly wants to be traded, switches agents

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When the Knicks acquired Emmanuel Mudiay last season — a player Denver just released outright — Mudiay instantly jumped past Frank Ntilikina on the point guard depth chart. Then, when the Knicks traded for Dennis Smith Jr. at the deadline (part of the Kristaps Porzingis deal), the future of Ntilikina in New York was thrown into uncertainty.

Ntilikina sees that, wants out, and is getting a new agent as well, reports Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina dropped CAA as his agency last season and planned to sign with French agent Bouna Ndiaye, the Daily News has learned.

Ntilikina, who was drafted eighth overall by Knicks in 2017, is on the trading block and desires a relocation, a source told the News. The Knicks declined offers to move Ntilikina at the trade deadline in February, acquired another point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., and Ntilikina quickly decided to change agents.

Ndiaye represents several French players in the NBA, including Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier.

The Knicks are expected to try to trade Ntilikina, either at the draft or next summer. Mostly other teams will view him as a way to save money — if teams do not pick up his 2020-21 option by Oct. 31 he comes off the books after this next season — but also Ntilikina played good defense and other teams may try to take a flier on him.

Andre Iguodala out for Game 4 against Portland with sore calf

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Andre Iguodala was limited in Game 3 in Portland, playing just 18 minutes Saturday night, none after he was taken out with 7:49 left in the third quarter. An MRI on his left calf Sunday came back clean, but he was questionable with leg tightness, officially. Call it a sore calf if you prefer.

Up 3-0 in the series, there was no reason to risk something worse in Game 4, so Iguodala is out, coach Steve Kerr announced pregame.

Alfonzo McKinnie will start in place of Iguodala.

Iguodala joins Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins on the Warriors bench for Game 4.

If there is a Game 5, it will be Wednesday night in the Bay Area.

With the NBA Finals not starting until May 30 — a week from this Thursday — the Warriors have plenty of time to rest and get their starters healed before taking on a serious challenger from the East (whether that is Milwaukee or Toronto). The Warriors have used their depth against Portland to help keep minutes down for their starters and Kerr will lean on that bench to close out the series in the next couple of games.

Report: Rockets, Mike D’Antoni talking contract extension

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Mike D’Antoni, the father of the seven seconds or less system that started a revolution of NBA style, has changed in recent years. In Houston, with James Harden at his peak and this specific roster around him, D’Antoni now coaches an isolation-heavy team that has pushed the NBA envelope in other ways, particularly in trusting the three ball.

D’Antoni fits with Daryl Morey, and the sides have started talking contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Houston Rockets and coach Mike D’Antoni have had preliminary discussions about the framework of a contract extension that would keep the two-time NBA Coach of the Year from entering the final year of his deal…

“I’ve let [general manager] Daryl [Morey] and [team owner] Tilman [Fertitta] know that I’m energized to keep coaching — and believe that I can continue to do this at a high level for at least another three years,” D’Antoni, 68, told ESPN on Sunday night.

“I want to be a part of a championship here.”

This is the smart move, he is a part of what has made the Rockets such a success in recent years.

The Rockets should look for roster upgrades this summer but they should not be blowing things up. The Rockets were the second best team in the NBA last season and may have been again by the playoffs this season (it depends on where you want to put Milwaukee and Toronto in that ranking, but the Rockets were in the mix). Houston’s problem has been a historic dynasty in Golden State, but that could look very different next season. If the Warriors take a step or two back, for whatever reasons, Houston is poised to pounce. They will be contenders.

D’Antoni is a part of that, and the Rockets need to keep one of the best coaches in the game in house.