Last night, I came across an article in the LA Times about Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, supporting Head Coach Vinny Del Negro. Within the article, Sterling is quoted saying “I like him. I usually follow the advice of my people, and I think they care for him, like him and want him to succeed. And I think he will.”
OF COURSE Donald Sterling “likes him,” he hasn’t paid Del Negro jack shhhhh. When Vinny Del Negro was fired, he was owed $2.3 million by the Chicago Bulls. That amount was offset by what the Clippers paid him in his contract. Del Negro had signed a contract with the Bulls that paid him $2 million a year which was tied with two other coaches for the lowest in the NBA and rightfully so, because he was a rookie coach. Del Negro butted heads with management in Chicago and was fired prematurely. He made some obvious blunders in Chicago and had the Chicago media calling him “Vinny Del Idiot.”
So now let me give you a brief history of HOW Del-Negro became an option for the Los Angeles Clippers and the quandary the Clippers are in NOW…
2009-2010: The Clippers had just gotten over a messy divorce with Mike Dunleavy Sr., who had been the Head Coach since 2003 and also became GM for the last two years of his tenure in 2009 and half of 2010. This was supposed to be Blake Griffin’s ACTUAL rookie year, but he missed the whole campaign because of a knee injury. This began the rumblings of Dunleavy getting fired, because he had started losing control of his players.
Dunleavy had signed the most lucrative coaching contract extension in the HISTORY of the Clippers’ franchise in 2006. He had signed a five year contract worth $22 million, which was only behind eight other coaches of which six were bonafide hall of famers. If you know anything about the Clippers, you should know that they do not hire high-name coaches or overpay them. Just look at this sorry list of coaches minus Larry Brown and Dr. Jack Ramsey.
So that was a BOLD statement made by Sterling at the time. He was “committed” to winning and not just being a sideshow to the Lakers. It made sense, because Clippers had just made it to the second round of the playoffs and Elton Brand was BALLIN. Of course, Clippers couldn’t maintain respect and from 2007-2010 they got back to their roots of being the laughing stock of the NBA. Dunleavy becomes “DUMBleavy” and “resigns” as head coach, but still somehow stays on as a GM. These were tumultuous times for Sterling, because he had to fire Dunleavy KNOWING that he would still owe him a lot of money left on his contract. Also, he would have to find a replacement for two different positons.
But the players, fans and the media were too much to handle for Sterling and he decides to fire Dunleavy. Dunleavy gets pissed and decides to take revenge for the remaining money that Sterling refused to pay – about $6.4 million. Sterling claimed that “Dunleavy NEVER intended to finish his tenure as a coach with the Clippers and so he should not have to pay the remaining money.” It was an IDIOTIC attempt to get out of owing money by Sterling. On June 11th, 2011, Dunleavy was awarded $13.5 million in compensation through arbritation. Basically double the amount that Dunleavy was orginially owed. Sterling loves lawsuits for some reason, just Google it.
Anyways, how do I connect that debacle to Vinny…
Well, the coaching salaries were sky rocketing in 2010, and it would have been difficult to hire a prestigious coach, so Sterling decides to take on “The Del-Idiot” project for his young and inexperienced team. You can search the web up and down and won’t know the exact salary numbers for Del Negro’s contract, because they were never released by the Clippers. As I mentioned earlier, he was owed $2.3 million from Chicago, so what I believe is that Del Negro and the Clippers worked out a deal that would pay him $1.23 million a year for three years with $2.3 million coming from Chicago, which added up to $6 million total over three years. It was Del Negro’s best chance at landing a head coaching gig, so he had to take a pay cut. For Sterling, it worked out great, because he got a coach for basically free and below market value.
2010-2011: Blake’s other…OTHER rookie year happens and ALL of a sudden there is a buzz going on in the sporting world. What was overshadowed in the NIGHTLY Blake Griffin highlights was that the Clippers started out 1-13 and were 5-21 at one point. They finished the season 32-50 and a lot of that had to do with getting rid of Baron Davis and acquiring Mo Williams, who was motivated to prove himself. There were times during the year when Del Negro’s substituting patterns and late game execution was questionable, but everyone gave him a pass because they were so young and inexperienced. Also Griffin’s highlights and coming out party was enough to put the deodorant on Del Negro’s staaank.
2011-2012: The unexpected arrival of Chris Paul, who arguably is the best PURE point god in the league. They also signed Caron Butler, brought in Chauncey Billups and re-upped DeAndre “Blake’s best friend” Jordan. The Clippers started building a team that looked like a legitimate threat with TWO possible MVP candidates in Blake and CP3. Del Negro went from driving a Kia (pun intended) to a Lambo. He just wasn’t/isn’t ready for a job that he’s EXTREMELY under qualified for.
The great Pat Riley once said that a coach in the NBA has the BIGGEST influence on games that are decided by five points or less and player management. Everything else is ALL players.
The Clippers in the last 20 games are 9-11. Out of those 11 losses, five of them have been by “five points or less” and three have been seven points or less; with the other three being blow-out “players have quit” losses. Overall, the Clippers have 13 “five point or less” losses on the year. Their record at the moment is 28-21. Those five point losses can give a coach a pass, if the team is young and still learning how to develop as a team in the NBA. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers are the type of teams that can use that excuse.
However, Clippers are loaded at almost every position with a floor general who specializes in closing games. So why are they STILL struggling to close out?
That is where Vinny’s inability to communicate a sound offensive philosophy comes into play. His play designs are so simple that nationally ranked high school teams won’t even run them. The offense is very stagnant and a lot of the times, it has to be a heroic play by Chris Paul or a shot clock beating three-point heave by the wings to save the play. They run isolation plays for Blake Griffin, 18 feet from the basket in which every individual in the gym knows that he’s either pulling up or taking a dribble-spin move to the basket. I have no doubt that Blake leads the league in most awkward finishes and shot attempts. He is a great player and an athlete, so a lot of the times it works out, but when ever Blake gets fouled he can’t convert from the free throw line. The players watch Chris Paul, rather than moving with Chris Paul.
One of the things people forget is last year when Chris Paul was a Hornet, they started out 8-0 and were 12-3 after 15 games, before injuries started piling up. It was beautiful to watch the offensive movement by those Hornets and the play designs by rookie coach Monty Williams. Starting lineup for that team was Emeka Okafor, David West, Trevor Ariza, Marco Bellinili and Chris Paul. Chris Paul was LEADING the league in assists with THAT GROUP during the run. For his career, Chris Paul has averaged 9.8 assists and has had multiple seasons with over 10+ assists per game.
Somehow Vinny’s “offensive” system or lack thereof has dropped Chris’s APG game average by a WHOLE assist to 8.6 this year. That is hard to do to someone who has been a pass first guy his whole life. It is very confusing that with a lineup of Caron Butler, Randy Foye, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan is somehow producing at a lower clip than the Hornet level above. Del Negro also hasn’t been able to develop his younger players, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who have regressed after showing so much promise last year. AND for reasons unbeknownst to me, I have witnessed DEANDRE JORDAN shooting JUMPERS recently IN games.
Any coach with any kind of basketball IQ would never encourage JORDAN to shoot JUMPERS from 15 ft. The guy hasn’t developed a SINGLE post move and now seems to be becoming lazier on offense and defense. Just boggles my mind…
The tandem of CP3 and BG was supposed to be the most feared pick-and-roll in the game, but that has not materialized to much. Worst of all, after two years, NOBODY knows what Vinny’s identity as a coach is. He is not an offensive guru, but his teams are always one of the worst defensive teams. He doesn’t manage players that well and has a history of players quitting on him in Chicago and right now with the Clippers. He is not laid back, but doesn’t know how to get in his players’ faces. The worst part about Del Negro is his substitution patterns and the inconsistency behind them. One thing that coaches OBSESS over at ALL legitimate levels is their substitution patterns and tendencies. Vinny repeatedly fails to recognize the importance of subbing at the RIGHT times of the game. He either sits his guys TOO long or subs in guys that make no sense at the worst junctures of the game. During timeouts, they seem to fall asleep when coming out on defense and repeatedly give up easy shots, such as Kevin Love hitting the walk off WIDE OPEN
game winning shot, earlier this year. Also post timeout offensive execution is usually very sloppy.
SO now we have come to this, where ANYONE with a basketball conscious can see that Del Negro has lost control of the team and has been a TERRIBLE coach, but is somehow in the perfect situation. Donald Sterling knows that Del Negro’s just simply not qualified to be a head coach in the NBA. BUT, because he only costs the Clippers $1.3 million with ONE year remaining on his contract, it makes no sense to fire him. They lose ALL leverage against the free agent coaches in the market, if they fire Del Negro now. They would also have to overpay, which Sterling just is not a fan of. The names that have been thrown around to replace Del Negro have been Jerry Sloan, Nate Mcmillan and Phil Jackson. All of these coaches will be well over $6 million a year and with Phil easily over $12 million a year. Make no mistake that Vinny Del Negro will HAVE to go in order for Chris Paul to re-up with the Clippers after next year, which happens to be Vinny’s last year in contract.
One of the only times Donald Sterling has ever made sense is when he recently said that he is WILLING to open his wallet and pay max money to Blake and CP3. Although, it makes no sense to fire Vinny Del Negro now, because it is so late in the season, they should relieve him of his duties before the start of next year, barring a miracle playoff run. But, I have no doubts that Clippers will be done by the second round this year.
It is not Del Negro’s fault that he is in this situation, because he has been getting chances out of circumstance and not merit. I strongly believe that this will be Del Negro’s last head coaching gig for a long time in the NBA. He needs to be an assistant and learn the craft before applying it.
mE – Sunny Saini