Expectations in Clipper Nation are officially a lot higher now. Now that it’s become official that Vinny Del Negro will not be back as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, the stakes for the team has just been raised.
Clippers management is clearly sending a message that they expect more from the likes of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and Co. than getting bounced out of the first round as they did against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Clippers had never won 56 games in one year until this season. The Clippers had never won a division title until this year. The team reaped the popularity harvest with the “Lob City” anthem that featured the high-flying antics of Griffin, Jordan, Crawford and Eric Bledsoe.
In three seasons as coach of the Clippers, Del Negro recorded a 128-102 mark and took the team to the playoffs the last two seasons.
It wasn’t good enough for Del Negro to continue at the helm of running this ship. All that did was allow the Clippers to find a nice cushion to sit on at home as they watch the remainder of the NBA playoffs.
How this latest development affects Paul and his decision to return to the team is still a wild guessing game. A possible disconnect with certain players may have played an indirect impact on the team not renewing Del Negro’s contract. Whatever the matter the Clippers are moving forward with a new directive.
“We would like to thank Vinny for everything he did during his three years with the organization,” Clippers Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks said. “Vinny helped this team win a Pacific Division title and we greatly appreciate all that he and his staff helped us accomplish. This was a difficult decision, but we feel this is the best decision for our franchise moving forward.”
There is no guarantee that Paul will return when free agency kicks in July 1. Paul, who came to Los Angeles two years ago via trade from the then New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans), is an unrestricted free agent, which means he can go anywhere he wants.
That’s not a good scenario for the Clippers.
With the Los Angeles Lakers-their Staples Center roommates-stuck with an again roster and pining to get younger and more athletic, all has to do is walk across the hall to a different locker room.
Remember, Paul was set to join Kobe Bryant and the Lakers two years ago before NBA Commissioner David Stern nixed the trade that would have sent a man considered as one of the league’s elite point guards to the Purple and Gold.
The Lakers got confusion and a stale backcourt, while the Clippers became the dominant team in the NBA’s Western Conference Pacific Division this season. The Clippers don’t want that run to end.
Ironically, the Lakers said bye-bye to their coach-Mike Brown-at the beginning of the season. Despite the success of the team this past season, the Clippers decided to part ways with Del Negro after their year had concluded.
Without Paul, who made the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team for the third time in his career, the Clippers might as well rename “Lob City” to “Ground Strike.” Paul is the real deal. The Clippers desperately need Paul’s rugged toughness, leadership and playmaking abilities to continue their ascension to NBA elitism.
In order to be viewed as a serious title contender for years to come, getting Paul back in the fold is the key. Getting the right person to coach the superstar is even more pivotal to the franchise’s immediate future.
The Clippers are a fun bunch to pay tickets and watch. But going deep into the postseason never materialized under Del Negro. With Paul running the show the last two seasons, the Clippers outdid the Lakers in popularity, gaining a following nationwide and internationally with their exciting brand of play.
All those dunks and highlight reel plays didn’t translate well into the postseason. The San Antonio Spurs booted the Clippers out the playoffs last year in the second round.
The Grizzlies basically grounded “Lob City” into a muck and duck show this postseason, slowing the game down and rendering the Clippers’ spectacular play into a half-court wrestling contest. Up 2-0, the Clippers lost four games in a row to the Grizzlies to end their season with a disheartening dud.
It was an opportunity lost for the Clippers after a successful season. The chance to really flex their muscles as the new kid to be seriously reckoned with went out of the window.
Unfortunately, those blown chances come with a cost. For Del Negro, it probably wasn’t the type of sacrifice he thought it would be.