The Los Angeles Clippers enjoyed their best season in franchise history, winning their first division title, a record 56 games, going on a 17-game winning streak and sweeping the Lakers for the first time. Their postseason, however, wasn’t as memorable, ending in four straight losses after taking a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies. How do the Clippers balance their memorable regular season with their forgettable postseason? Well, we’ll take a step back here and try to grade what the front office brought to the table.
Vinny Del Negro has been on the hot seat since the Clippers picked up the option on the third and final year of his deal last year and did not extend him beyond this season. It was clear that this season was an audition for him and if he would be the coach who would lead the Clippers for the next four to five seasons.
With Chris Paul becoming an unrestricted free agent and able to sign a five-year extension this summer and Blake Griffin inking a five-year extension last summer, the next big question for the Clippers is who will be coaching the cornerstones of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
As good as the Clippers have been over the past two seasons, it could easily be argued that the turnaround has more to do with the arrival of Paul than Del Negro’s coaching. Del Negro was 32-50 in his first season with the Clippers before Paul arrived, and as Griffin was named Rookie of the Year. He was a .500 coach in his two seasons with Chicago and never made it out of the first round. The Bulls then replaced him with Tom Thibodeau, prompting Chicago to go 62-20 and advance to the Eastern Conference finals the next season. Derrick Rose, who was named the Rookie of the Year under Del Negro, blossomed into the league's MVP under Thibodeau. And look what the injury-riddled Bulls are doing this season in the playoffs without Rose.
Del Negro is a good coach, who surrounded himself with good assistants, but it was no secret that the Clippers needed to advance to the conference finals for him to be in the running for a long-term extension.
Outlook for 2013-14
Del Negro is scheduled to meet with Clippers owner Donald Sterling at the end of this week and it would be considered a major surprise if Sterling offered Del Negro a contract extension after his deal expires in June. The Clippers, according to sources, are expected to make a run at some big name coaches as Sterling for the first time seems willing to open up the checkbook for a respected coach with a solid resume.
The good news for Del Negro is that his last two years with the Clippers were strong enough that he’ll likely land on his feet with another team within a year or two.
C: Del Negro deserved an A for the first half of the season when the Clippers were a league-best 32-9, won 17 straight and looked well on their way to winning 60 games. Del Negro even won Coach of the Month honors in December. The wheels, however, fell off in the second half of the season where the team’s play was probably worthy of a C. The Clippers, however, did rally to win 9 straight to claim the Pacific Division, the four seed and take a 2-0 series lead on Memphis. In the end, though, Del Negro's team stalled out as Memphis made the right adjustments after Game 2 and won four straight and eliminated the Clippers in six games.
There was some uncertainty in the Clippers' front office last offseason after general manager Neil Olshey left to take a similar position with the Portland Trail Blazers. Gary Sacks was then promoted to take over for Olshey as team president Andy Roeser and Del Negro took a more hands-on approach to dealing with off-season acquisitions and moves. Sacks was on a similar one-year audition run like Del Negro but chances are that Sacks will be back. He had the backing of Paul and Griffin when he was promoted to his position and he has been working with Sterling and Roeser for 20 years.
The Clippers front office did a solid job in the offseason in putting together arguably the deepest team in the league. They went out and acquired Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf. For all the talk about the Clippers building on the continuity from last season, there were nine players on this year’s playoffs roster that were not on last year’s playoff roster.
Outlook for 2013-14
The Clippers aren’t likely to make any moves in the front office. Sacks and Roeser will likely to continue in their roles unless Sterling suddenly gets the urge to call up Phil Jackson and give him a blank check to come across town and run the Clippers.
B: The Clippers did a fine job assembling a deep roster that won a team-record 56 games. Some might say it wasn’t built for the playoffs after losing Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin but the Clippers got swept in the second round with those two. The Clippers rolled the dice on making some moves with a nice mixture of young players and veterans and it worked well in the regular season before fizzling out in the playoffs.