The Los Angeles Clippers fired head coach Vinny Del Negro despite coming off the best season in franchise history. They won their first division title, set a record for wins in a season and recorded a franchise-high 17-game winning streak.
Despite all that, the season ended in turmoil, as the Memphis Grizzlies knocked off the Clippers during the first round of the playoffs in six games.
There are multiple reasons why Del Negro was let go, but the overall consensus is that he was unable to advance the team any further. Many expected the Clippers to become title contenders this season, yet they never even made it out of the first round.
Sure, the defense improved and the talent level of the team grew, but Del Negro seemed unable to tweak his roster, rotations and system when the team desperately needed him to.
Look no further than the Memphis series.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were killing the Clippers, yet Del Negro barely varied his game plan. There were no traps set on either player, the defense did not pick up full-court and the defensive assignments stayed virtually the same the entire series.
Del Negro ran into similar problems while coaching the Chicago Bulls. Despite having one of the most dynamic players in the league in Derrick Rose, Del Negro struggled developing a reliable offensive system. Rose had to carry the entire weight of the offense, much like Chris Paul had to do this season.
The team’s offensive system essentially revolved around Paul making a play for others or scoring. There were no go-to plays; there were no creative in-game adjustments. The Clippers needed someone to analyze what was happening on the floor, highlight the needed adjustments and then draw up a plan of action.
Ramona Shelburne makes a great point in this ESPN article.
Nobody within the organization disliked Vinny. The problem is after three years no one within the organization really went to bat for him, either. That's what it was going to take for him to be retained. It's not enough for owner Donald Sterling to be his biggest fan. Everyone needs to be on board, and clearly, they weren't.
For all his faults, Del Negro’s job probably would have been safe if someone with the clout of Chris Paul went to bat for him with the front office. However, after watching the last two seasons play out, it would not be surprising if Paul wanted Del Negro gone as well.
Paul basically holds all the keys in the Clippers organization. If he decides to sign elsewhere in free agency, the Clippers’ future begins to crumble. If he stays, he will likely be expected to play a role in hiring the next coach.
Again, there were multiple reasons why Vinny Del Negro was not retained as head coach. The strategy, system, lack of adjustments, etc. Although he did lead the team to the best season in franchise history, he will likely be forgotten in a few years.
Del Negro may be a great guy, and some of the players loved playing for him. But winning not only matters, it tends to solve all problems. The first-round meltdown at the claws of the Memphis Grizzlies did not do him any favors.
Unfortunately, considering the Clippers’ aspirations, moving on without Del Negro at the helm was the right move.