The Los Angeles Clippers may not look much different on the floor next season -- assuming Chris Paul re-signs with the club, which isn't a guarantee -- except for one notable exception. Vinny Del Negro will not be coaching the team. The Clippers, according to the Los Angeles Times, will not extend his contract, which expires June 30.
Del Negro inherited a 29-win team in the 2010-11 season. He and rookie phenom Blake Griffin infused the Clippers with excitement, but few wins. The Clippers nabbed Paul the next season, won 40 games, defeated the Grizzlies in a taut seven-game series before bowing out to the San Antonio Spurs in four games. Del Negro's Clippers, with a few ancillary pieces added to the mix, were even better this season, winning 56 games and clinching the fourth seed in the Western Conference. A first-round exit, especially one where the Clippers held a 2-0 lead, didn't assuage the prevailing sentiment that Del Negro simply doesn't have the coaching acumen to win consistently in the NBA.
So how will the Clippers replace Del Negro, the most successful coach (.556 winning percentage) in franchise history?
According to a LA Times report, Byron Scott, whose relationship with Paul may give him an advantage, Golden State assistant Mike Malone, long-time San Antonio assistant Mike Budenholzer, Alvin Gentry and Indiana assistant Brian Shaw are in the mix.
This isn't the first time Budenholzer has been involved in a coaching vacancy. His services have always been in demand, but he has opted for the security of San Antonio instead. With ample experience in the Spurs organization, a coaching job is his for the taking. Should he jump for this Clippers job?
Probably. The Clippers were an excellent team, and occasionally showcased championship-contending ability. During their 17-game winning streak in December, the longest non-Miami winning streak of the season, they crushed opponents by 15.3 points per 100 possessions. After the All-Star break, only Miami generated more corner 3-pointers per game and only Oklahoma City scored more points per 100 possessions. That's good company.
The wheels fell off in the playoffs. Their offense, albeit with a gimpy Griffin and shoddy rotation play, still scored at an good rate but their defense was second-to-last. Only the Los Angeles Lakers were worse. Del Negro, largely unable to construct a cohesive system to support Paul and Griffin, watched idly as the Grizzlies bumped and bruised their way to the second round. Curious minutes management -- super sub Eric Bledsoe averaged only 16.2 minutes -- and locker room discontent attributed to Del Negro's eventual departure.
The Clippers vacancy, as weird as this sounds, is definitely enticing. Not many teams have two superstars (Griffin may be a quasi-superstar at this point). Not many have their athleticism, either.
Yet problems arise because smart defenses are able to suffocate their one-dimensional offense. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan also need to realize that pure athleticism isn't conducive to defensive success. Timing and communication are just as important, if not more so.
The pieces are there and they will likely be in contention next season. Budenholzer is comfortable in San Antonio, and he should be, but positions like this don't come around often. He should jump at this chance.