Earlier this month there was word circling around the league that Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni had lost control of his team, and before you knew it he was gone. Now we have rumblings coming out of the Clippers camp, and it seems fairly conclusive that Del Negro has little time remaining with the team if they don’t turn things around quickly.
After watching Del Negro’s Clippers play over the past week, it’s evident that the team has completely lost focus and determination. How much an NBA coach has influence over a game is debatable, but these two facets are undeniably the head coach’s responsibility. And while the team has one of the league’s best floor generals in Chris Paul, they’ve struggled with a leadership crisis and their execution in late-game situations has been well below-par.
Not all coaches are expected to have a Rick Carlisle type level of offensive creativity, or a Tom Thibodeau-esque defensive system, but when a coach fails to implement a game plan that works consistently on either side of the floor, it becomes a problem. I’ve followed Chris Paul closely since he was a rookie, and like most great players he has a knack for making the coach look good. In his time playing in New Orleans under Monty Williams, Paul’s ability to cover up coaching mistakes was a frequent point of discussion, but so far this season even CP3 has had a tough time making Del Negro look like a competent play caller.
Earlier this week ESPN’s Bill Simmons tweeted: “Heard today that Vinny Del Negro is on super-thin, could-go-any-day ice. A blowout loss in OKC tonight won’t exactly help. 2 things going in VDN’s favor: 1) Sterling is too cheap to pay for 2 coaches, and 2) can’t hire an interim coach for a playoff contender.”
Much like Del Negro, Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been the punchline to a bunch of NBA related jokes since he became involved with the league. He’s owned the Clips since 1981, and in that time they’ve mustered up not one, but two winning seasons (record greater than 41-41). So it’s conceivable that Sterling would be happy to let Del Negro go down with the ship, rather than fork out some cash for a head coach who could push them back in to a winning direction.
If this were last year you could bet that Sterling would stick with Del Negro for the remainder of the season and watch as the Clippers slowly fade out of the playoff picture, but such failure this year could come at a cost, and that price is Chris Paul reconsidering his future with the Clippers. As some people may know, Paul can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2012/2013 season, which means if he isn’t sold on this Clippers franchise he can opt out of Lob Angeles and become fair game for the rest of the league.
As a part of the deal that sent Paul to LA the early opt-out clause was waived from his contract, which keeps him with the Clippers through the 2012/13 season, much like Dwight Howard in Orlando. This gives them an extra year to build a contender around Paul and Griffin. However, when Chauncey Billups was ruled out for the season with a torn achilles tendon, it presented the Clippers with their first bump in the road, and how the organisation steadies the ship will tell Paul a great deal about his new ball club’s commitment to winning and whether or not he wants to put pen-to-paper in extending his stay with the Clippers beyond 2013.
In the off-season Paul made it clear that his sole-purpose for leaving the Big Easy was for a better opportunity at winning an NBA championship, and if he doesn’t feel the Clippers have the capacity to do so, why would he stick around? With only two winning seasons under their belt in over 30 years, it seemed questionable that the Clippers would be that team for Chris Paul. After they got off to a strong start with signature wins over the Thunder, Lakers, Heat and Mavericks, the skeptics were silenced, but for the first time since the Paul trade questions are being asked, and if farewelling Del Negro will put these issues to bed (for now), it seems like a no-brainer.