Clippers owner, GM say Vinny Del Negro’s job safe

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Reports were swirling last week that Vinny Del Negro had lost the locker room and his job was in danger. The Clippers were struggling — they hadn’t played much defense all season and teams had adjusted to their offensive sets.

But the guys who would pull the trigger on a Del Negro firing told T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times they do not plan to do so. That starts at the top with owner Donald Sterling.

“I like him,” said Sterling. “I usually follow the advice of my people, and I think they care for him, like him and want him to succeed. And I think he will.”

Then there is GM Neil Olshey.

“I see absolutely no reason why there would be a coaching change based on where the guys are now,” Olshey said. “I think everybody built us up into something because we got out to such a great start and the minute we didn’t live up to it for a short period of time everyone wanted to act like the Apocalypse was upon us.”

It doesn’t sound like they are making a move this season, although what are they going to say publicly anyway? Votes of confidence like this carry little real weight if a team keeps losing.

The team has an option on Del Negro’s contract for next season, a change this summer has always seemed more likely. Olshey tried to play that off noting that even Thunder coach Scotty Brooks doesn’t have a deal for next season. But his team is playing like a contender — the Clippers have contender talent but are not at that level.

There are coaches out on the market — Nate McMillan, Flip Saunders, and Mike D’Antoni among others — who seem more suited to the task of coaching a contender. Del Negro will get the first shot at it, but there are guys waiting in the wings if he can’t live up to that standard. (Whether Sterling would pay top dollar for an elite coach is another question.)

In the end it comes down to keeping Chris Paul — he is a free agent in the summer of 2013 and has options. The Clippers will offer a max deal but if he doesn’t think the franchise is committed to winning he may well pack up and move on. It’s up to the Clippers to show him that things are different with this franchise now.