Owner Donald Sterling has given head coach Vinny Del Negro the dreaded vote of confidence…..I am not moved.
Absolutely no one should be surprised by the rumors that Del Negro is not long for the Los Angeles Clippers. He’s not just the wrong coach for this team, he wasn’t even the man for the job last year (see here).
The Clippers grabbed Vinny out of the coaching recycle bin back in 2010, shortly after he was fired by the Chicago Bulls. NBA teams like to pick the same old tired coaches out of a hat, and the Clips are no different. Despite leading that young team to the playoffs 2 years in a row, Bulls management didn’t think he was the type of coach that could take a team to the next level. Los Angeles hired him mainly to guide the baby ‘Clips’ to the playoffs like he did the baby Bulls in Chicago. That was before Blake Griffin ever played a regular season game. I don’t think the Clippers knew what they had in BG following his one-year postponement due to knee surgery. When the team stumbled onto Chris Paul, Caron Butler, and Chauncey Billups past winter it quickly became apparent that this was no longer a teaching gig. A year later Del Negro went from coaching a young team looking for an identity, to coaching a big-name lineup with championship aspirations. Quite frankly, this guy has been in over his head for months…it’s just now the team’s play is starting to show it.
I don’t know what Vinny’s perspective is, but when I look at the Clippers I see a Big Two. I honestly think that’s better than having a Big Three, despite it being the hot thing to do these days. The Lakers, on their way to winning titles in ’09 & ’10, had a two-headed monster with great role players. Kobe Bryant & Pau Gasol were the All-Stars then, as Andrew Bynum was focused on doing the dirty work. The Clippers, today, are a talented group with 6 or 7 really good players who have star aspirations. They remind me of the Lakers that would always lose to the Utah Jazz in the late 90′s, despite annihilating them on paper. Shaquille O’neal, Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, a teenage Kobe Bryant, Horry, Fox…they had four All-Stars in 1998 alone. But the Jazz were a simple team… John Stockton, Karl Malone and a bunch of gritty role players. They handled The Lake Show two years in a row.
The Clips need to streamline their team and use that old Jazz roster as a blueprint. They could even be better than Lakers are today, they just need an identity…a framework to work through. The biggest complaint we’re hearing about Vinny Del Negro is that he doesn’t have a set rotation. Newsflash…he didn’t even have one last year. Down the hall, the bumps n’ bruises that the Lakers went through early on this year were a good thing. While Vinny was allowing CP3 n’ crew to get their lob on, Mike Brown was hammering home the blueprints for a new Lakers gameplan. Despite his shortcomings, he has at least given the team an identity…breaking away from the triangle offense while also adding a more aggressive pick n’ roll defense. People joke that Kobe runs the Lakers not Brown…they obviously never watch a Clipper games. If you’d look at one of Vinny’s timeouts, you’d think Chris Paul was the team’s coach. CP3 is calling the plays as well as shouting instructions to the guys…..it’s comedic.
The Clippers need a coach that will command respect (okay, so Mike Brown isn’t the best model). This past offseason, I recommended Larry Brown for the job…always a risky proposition. I would think this would be the dream job for Doc Rivers, a former Clipper, following his Boston Celtics years…but that’s more than a seasons away. Whomever replaces Vinny Del Negro, I’m positive that they’ll bring a solid vision and give the team an identity from the very start.
One day soon, the Los Angeles Clippers will be in the NBA Finals. They’ll probably have a much less “talented” lineup on paper but what their Big Two will be even better than they are now.
They’ll have role players who all know their identity on the team…and a coach who knew enough to establish it from the start.