HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The last time we heard about some coach “losing his team”, Mike D’Antoni was out of a job a few days later in New York.
So if Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro is a feeling a little uneasy this morning after hearing about this ESPN report from Chris Broussard that he has indeed “lost his team,” we should all understand his plight:
With the Los Angeles Clippers in free fall, tensions are high in the club’s locker room, most notably in the relationship between coach Vinny Del Negro and his players, according to several sources close to the situation.
“Vinny has lost the team,” one source said. “They don’t want to play hard for him.”
With the Clippers having lost 11 of their past 18 games to turn this once-promising season into a mess, Del Negro’s job security would certainly seem to be in jeopardy. As it is, Del Negro is in the final guaranteed season of his contract. The Clippers hold a team option for next season.
Most of the players, according to sources, believe it’s time for a change. They cite the uncertainty of Del Negro’s rotation as a major problem. With the front office adding several players to the roster throughout this shortened season — Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Bobby Simmons and Nick Young — plus Eric Bledsoe‘s return from injury in February, players’ minutes have fluctuated from game to game.
We went through plenty of this yesterday, highlighting the fact that the Clippers were at the crossroads of their season. But that was before the Clippers got sideswiped in New Orleans, losing to the Hornets in Chris Paul‘s return trip to the Big Easy that turned into the Big Ugly.
It’s hard to see anything saving Del Negro’s skin if the Clippers’ season bottoms all the way out. We’re talking about a coach who is working on his second stint with one of the league’s elite point guards (he had Derrick Rose in Chicago, before the Bulls took off under Tom Thibodeau) and couldn’t make that work.
Even the passionate defenders of Del Negro have to recognize that the results do no back up whatever argument they’d make in his defense. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPNLosAngeles.com offers up an impassioned plea for change, without coming right out and saying it, due to the fact that the expectations for the Clippers this far exceed anything Del Negro was ready to deal with:
Management cleverly scratched and clawed to acquire a megawatt talent like Paul, but there’s something fundamentally flawed about the on-court product:
This is a team that doesn’t know what it is.
And there is little evidence that Vinny Del Negro, the person in charge with forging the Clippers’ identity, has the imagination and direction to cultivate one, despite being furnished with an impressive collection of talent.
Try to chart the team’s maturation since Christmas night, when they dispatched an inferior Golden State team, and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with specifics. The offense still relies on the simple diet of high ball-screens with Paul and Blake Griffin, isolations for Griffin and, of course, Paul’s magical improvisation with the ball when things get hairy. The Clippers rarely go to counters, secondary actions or misdirection. In-game adjustments are far and few between, and simply inserting Kenyon Martin to check a terror like Pistons center Greg Monroe last Sunday is regarded as monumental progress.
Opponents are now prepared for that pick-and-roll, and back-line defenders are ready to rotate to Griffin when there’s even the hint of a dive or a spin to the hoop. After a confounding loss to Phoenix recently, Del Negro confessed that the team’s fourth-quarter offense was predictable and disorganized. Players have confirmed as much.
You hate to see things come apart like this for a man who has done nothing but put forth his best effort, but Del Negro is firmly on the hot seat for now until the Clippers’ season ends. And it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll be around to see the end of it from his seat on the bench …