Clippers play familiar tune with Del Negro

May, 29, 2012
5/29/12
8:55
PM PT

LOS ANGELES -- There was no doubt Vinny Del Negro would be back to coach the Los Angeles Clippers next season.

That was perhaps the biggest takeaway from a 40-minute conference call Tuesday to announce that the Clippers had picked up their option on Del Negro. It was a point that was driven home time and time again by Clippers general manager Neil Olshey.

"Clearly there was never an issue of whether or not Vinny was going to come back," Olshey said. "[Clippers owner] Mr. [Donald] Sterling, [Clippers president] Andy [Roeser] and I knew this was a fait accompli right after the season."

It was a company line no doubt meant to instill confidence that Del Negro is their guy and that no other guy was even considered.

The only thing it did was prove to the Clippers' fan base that this team may not be all that different than we thought it was last season.

Over the past six months, the Clippers have made one move after another to prove that this organization was different. Each move, from signing Caron Butler to trading for Chris Paul to picking up Chauncey Billups, represented giant swings of the sledgehammer to the Clippers' former image.

On Tuesday, they began putting together some of the pieces of that past with crazy glue and duct tape.

This isn't about Del Negro. It's never been about Del Negro.

When you're thinking of changing the face of a franchise and reinvigorating a fan base, coaches like Del Negro are more stopgaps than anything else.

If a team's master plan works out and ends with a championship parade in June, coaches like Del Negro become nothing more than footnotes in a franchise's history, like Doug Collins and Del Harris were before they gave way to Phil Jackson when he took over the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The announcement of the Clippers' next coach should have been a celebrated occasion this summer with a guest of honor to match the hype currently attached to the team. There was no shortage of available candidates this offseason, ranging from Jackson, Jerry Sloan and Jeff Van Gundy to Mike D'Antoni, Nate McMillan and Stan Van Gundy.

Instead, the announcement came in the form of a 34-word news release, followed by an awkward conference call filled with more clichés and non-answers than a political debate.

The awkwardness came from Olshey, who cited stability and continuity as reasons Del Negro was kept, though he may himself be looking to leave the Clippers. He currently does not have a contract and has reportedly interviewed for the Portland Trailblazers' general manager position.

When Olshey was asked about the reports, he said, "I don't have any comment on my situation right now. We're here to talk about Vinny." Subsequent attempts to ask Olshey about the move were cut off at the pass by the moderator.

Even though Del Negro was accepting congratulations from reporters during the conference call, he actually has about as much stability as Olshey does. Does anyone really think Del Negro is the long-term solution for the Clippers? Does anyone think Del Negro won't once again be on the hot seat if the Clippers lose three straight games again in March? If the Clippers felt that strongly that Del Negro was their guy, they would probably have signed him to a long-term deal and removed the lame duck status he will once again work under this season.

Del Negro is in an unwinnable position, which used to be the old joke about the Clippers' job but now merely highlights the impossible expectations Del Negro will be faced with next season. Nothing short of a trip to the Western Conference finals will be accepted, and perhaps even that might not be enough.

Why do you think Chris Paul wanted to be traded to the Lakers? So he could make it to the second round of the playoffs? So he could make a good showing in the conference finals? Of course not; he wanted to win a championship.

If the Clippers win 50 games next season and get swept out of the conference finals, it would be viewed as the greatest season in team history. Paul would view it as a failure. Therein lies the biggest obstacle for the most unsuccessful franchise in NBA history trying to please one of the most competitive players in NBA history. Clippers franchise records mean nothing to him.

That's why it was so important for the Clippers to be proactive in choosing their next coach and approaching this season. This idea that the Clippers merely wanted to give Del Negro another chance and if it doesn't work out they can huddle up with Paul in the offseason to discuss Plan B is nonsense.

What makes anyone think if the Clippers once again flame out in the playoffs, that Paul will want to stay with the Clippers? He's under contract for only this upcoming season with the team. That's it. This was their one and only chance to show him how serious they were about winning a championship this season and not waiting around.

Instead the Clippers showed us all they might not have changed as much as we all thought they had.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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