Conventional wisdom said that unless the Clippers went deeper into the playoffs than they did a season ago after finishing this regular season with a franchise-best 56 wins, that the job of head coach Vinny Del Negro would be firmly placed in jeopardy.
Del Negro entered this season in the final year of his contract, and while extension talks were had early on, they never went anywhere, and both sides agreed to table the conversation until after the season.
This is by no means an unusual situation, especially in these playoffs. Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins is not signed beyond this season, and neither is P.J. Carlesimo, interim head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.
But it’s always felt more serious in Del Negro’s case, for a couple of reasons.
One, it’s still unclear to most if Del Negro is capable of getting the most out of the talent on his roster. As witnessed in the series-ending loss in Memphis, his lineup choices and substitution patterns can seem erratic at times, and in this postseason, especially in Game 6, they appeared to be downright desperate.
The other reason Del Negro’s situation is different, of course, is because the franchise’s best player in Chris Paul will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Clippers will take a multi-year step backward in their development if they aren’t able to re-sign Paul, who will likely have a very large vote in determining Del Negro’s future in Los Angeles.
Despite all of the uncertainty, the Clippers aren’t going to rush into any decisions. But they will likely begin the process of evaluation fairly quickly, in hopes of putting together a successful plan for the offseason.
Clippers sources insist no decision has been made on Del Negro yet and that this early playoff exit won’t be the only basis upon which he’s judged. The team won a franchise-record 56 games this season and Del Negro has always had a good relationship with the team’s ownership.
The team is expected to take “about a week” to evaluate the season before making a decision on Del Negro, according to one source. Officially Del Negro’s contract runs a few more months, and the Clippers have been known to take their time with such matters — interim coach Kim Hughes famously worked several months after he was dismissed as interim head coach — but “that’s not going to happen this time,” the source said.
There doesn’t seem to be any way to bring back Del Negro for next season and beyond, unless Paul were to stand up and say the only way he returns is if the team’s current head coach is retained, as well.
That doesn’t seem likely, however. Paul is as competitive as they come, and values winning above all else. That, along with Del Negro’s track record, will probably see him ousted long before Paul is set to make his own decision.