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.