With Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach Vinny Del Negro’s contract set to expire after this season, Clips’ management should avoid the temptation to renew the coach’s contract and instead seek out other options.
There is no denying Del Negro’s value to this franchise as he has overseen much of the transition of Lob City from NBA laughingstock to fringe contender. However, given Del Negro’s basic half-court offense and suspect minute allocations, the Clippers might be better off with a coach that can run an efficient system-like offense, while tightening the rotation, and maximizing his players’ on-court performance.
Since blazing through the first half of the season en route to a league-best 32-9 record, the Clips have lost their momentum as of late. Before the Clips knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers to sweep the season series and win the franchise’s first-ever Pacific Division title, the only real highlight of the second half of the season was Chris Paul’s MVP performance at the All-Star game.
After Paul’s masterful performance in Houston, the Clips have gone just 12-9. A lock for a top-three seed for the majority of the season, Lob City is now fighting just to get home-court advantage in the first round.
Certainly there are other factors beyond coaching that have contributed to LAC’s poor play as of late, but that does not acquit Del Negro.
During the blowout, Del Negro elected to make a statement and play none of his starters in the fourth quarter outside of Paul, the only one that was having a half-decent game.
Del Negro ripped into his team following the loss, hoping to instill a sense of urgency for their next game (via ESPNLosAngeles.com):
“We’re fighting for a spot, and we come out with that second-half -- pretty much the whole game -- effort. It was poor.” Del Negro said. “I know it’s the fourth game in five nights, but that’s no excuse. We’ve got plenty of depth. No excuses. I don’t believe in that.”
Early in the season, Del Negro looked brilliant with his hands-off approach and his ten-man rotation. Now, Del Negro looks to be struggling with a learning curve, vacillating with rotation men Grant Hill, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins, and continuing to play hybrid guard Eric Bledsoe for far too few minutes.
On the year, Bledsoe is playing just 20.6 minutes per game.
Despite having the third highest PER on the team at 18.1, Bledsoe has played the eighth most minutes. Although Mini LeBron is playing behind the greatest point guard on the planet, Del Negro should still find a way to play his best players more often.
Outside of suspect minute allocations, Coach Del Negro’s thin playbook is also cause for concern.
The Clippers have no seven seconds or less offense, not even a semblance of something like a space and pace attack. According to Del Negro, the Clips’ offense is simply “Chris Paul.”
While the Chris Paul system might have its benefits, it is yet to yield any results beyond the second round of the playoffs in CP3’s seven-year career. This is no knock on Paul, rather an indication that he can only do so much for a team on the court. The Clips’ first-ever Pacific Division championship is a small testament to his on-court value.
Presuming Paul re-signs with Lob City this offseason, Los Angeles is built to contend both now and in the future. As such, the Clippers’ need a coach that can optimize the Clips’ talent and elevate the team to the next level, while competing with coaching savants like Gregg Popovich and George Karl.
In short, the Clippers might benefit from something of a system offense.
When Coach Del Negro was hired three seasons ago, he was brought in to help cultivate the young talent of Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan. He was not expected to lead Lob City to a title.
The trade for Chris Paul just prior to the start of last season changed everything, and now Clipper Nation has to wonder whether Del Negro is the right one to lead the Clips’ moving forward.
Del Negro has done a masterful job of bringing along a prospect like Griffin. His three consecutive All-Star appearances and All-NBA caliber seasons are a manifestation of his ability to cultivate young talent.
History tells us that this was not the first time Del Negro overachieved with a young roster.
He coached Derrick Rose during his rookie and sophomore seasons on the Chicago Bulls. In the process, Del Negro helped lead Chicago to back-to-back playoff appearances and a .500 regular-season record.
Rose got too big for Del Negro, and Chicago needed a new coach to help take the Bulls back to contender status.
Since replacing Del Negro with defensive tactician Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls have had back-to-back No. 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference and a conference finals appearance in 2011.
Despite the small sample size, the Bulls are a compelling case study, and indicate that Clipper Country should be better off with a more accomplished coach, or at least a more tactical one, that could take Lob City even higher.
Los Angeles should thank Del Negro for what he has accomplished over the last three seasons, and seriously reflect on who might be the greatest coach in the miserable history of the franchise.
Ultimately, Del Negro might have peaked too early. His days in the City of Angels should be numbered, in what should be a very intriguing head coach search this summer.