With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Los Angeles Clippers.
From the minute the deal sending Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers was announced, it became obvious that the long-suffering franchise was suddenly in the hands of someone special. Most importantly, it was in the hands of someone sullen, with significant sway. After the deal Clipper big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan could be seen celebrating following a Clipper practice, all the way back in December of 2011, in full view of teammates that would be likely packaged off to New Orleans in exchange for Paul’s gifts. CP3 mentor Chauncey Billups was quickly given a gig as the team’s resident sage. Coach Vinny Del Negro was quickly given the dubious eye.
Despite whispers about the potential years’ worth of Los Angeles vs. Los Angeles battles in the Western Conference finals, the Clippers have stumbled somewhat. A second round ouster in Paul’s first, chaotic year as point guard in 2012 was passable enough. A 2013 first round dismissal at the hands of a Memphis Grizzlies franchise (if not fully returned roster) that lost to the Clippers in a similar series 12 months before was galling enough. Chris Paul, team leader, appears ticked. Ticked, more than enough.
And Vinny Del Negro, Clippers coach, appears to be on his way out.
It was surprising that VDN was ever on his way in to Los Angeles. Del Negro posted a .500 record in Chicago for two seasons before the Clippers hired the former San Antonio Spurs guard before Paul became a member of the team. Comparing Vinny’s work with the Derrick Rose-led Bulls to the records that Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau helped post in two seasons following his departure (leading the NBA in wins during 2011, typing for the league lead in wins the year after) isn’t completely fair considering the roster improvements Thibodeau enjoyed, but Del Negro’s time in Chicago was star-crossed to say the least.
He’s improved as a coach in Los Angeles. This aspect of his resume cannot be denied.
He is also the man that played Grizzlies-killer Eric Bledsoe fewer minutes per game than Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill, and Jamal Crawford during this spring’s first round ouster. This is the guy that entrusted Willie Green to play nine important minutes down the stretch of his team’s final game of the season. This is a guy who knows more about basketball than a lot of us, but is still making mistakes that handicap his team as it attempts to win ballgames.
If this seems harsh, it’s only because we’ve had nearly five full years (working Chris Paul into a system during a lockout year in 2011, without the benefit of a full training camp, has to be excused) of watching Vinny’s work. And while the stagnation in the development of players such as DeAndre Jordan and (to a lesser extent) Blake Griffin falls at the feet of the players in question, something has to change. Another voice has to hit that sideline, and the Clippers have to attempt to make the sort of move that did the Chicago Bulls so well back in 2010.
Beyond that, sadly (we very much regret attempting to influence somebody’s job security in tones so brash), the steps following are obvious. It begins with Chris Paul, who will be returning to the Los Angeles Clippers this offseason in spite of his unrestricted free agency.
Paul would have to turn down far less money and fewer guaranteed years in any move that would divorce the All-Star from the Clippers. Worse, for fans hoping for that sort of separation, CP3 would also have to potentially head to a squad stuck in rebuilding mode. And while we respect Dirk Nowitzki’s still-potent game in Dallas and the potential for the Atlanta Hawks to turn it all around, Paul would be turning down far less cash to leave a Clippers team featuring a cadre of sound young players and veterans he enjoys working with, possibly coached by a head man that he would have a big hand in choosing.
This is why it’s just fine if Billups, or even Lamar Odom, returns. This is why it’s just fine if the same crew comes back to try it all again. There’s a reason we expected great things from these Clippers. There’s a reason why the first round defeat was such a disappointment. There’s a reason why this team should go into the luxury tax to keep Eric Bledsoe following 2013-14, and why Chris Paul should be keen to come back.
A new voice, to alternately counter and/or enhance Chris Paul’s voice, needs to be put in place. I very much dislike piling on the man, but it appears as if switching out Vinny Del Negro for a different head coach could help in that regard.