2011-2012 contributions: This wasn’t necessarily the job the Clippers hired Del Negro for or the job Del Negro thought he was accepting two years ago. Back then, leading the Clippers to a winning record and a playoff series win would have gotten him a contract extension and Coach of the Year honors. Now, it has him sitting squarely on the hot seat. The expectations for this team changed drastically when the Clippers traded for Chris Paul in the offseason, in addition to adding Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin, Nick Young and Reggie Evans. Del Negro nearly got fired in late March when the Clippers lost three road games in three days before the team reeled off six straight wins, their longest winning streak in two decades.
The fact that the Clippers fought for Del Negro and played their best basketball when they knew another loss might cost him his job speaks to the respect he has amongst the players. They might not always love his subsitution patterns (which were as consistent as Kim Kardashian’s love interests) and he might not be the best X’s and O’s guy (he’s only been a coach for four seasons) but he does have a way of connecting with players. He’s a player’s coach that allows his players to play their game, which is great when they’re firing on all cylinders, but his major drawback is not always having the ability to pull back the reigns and force them to play the way he wants them to play.
2012-2013 prediction: The Clippers' strong finish to the season (they finished with the best winning percentage in franchise history) and strong showing the playoffs (they won a playoff series for only the third time in franchise history and won a Game 7 for the first time) bought Del Negro one more season. It was perhaps the cheapest option for the Clippers, considering bigger name coaches on the open market would have demanded at least twice as much as Del Negro’s current salary. And as much as the Clippers’ culture has changed over the past year, "cheap and safe" will always rule the day when it comes to personnel decisions. Del Negro, however, is on a short leash. The Clippers know they are auditioning for Paul’s long-term services this season and if this team struggles out of the gate or hits a losing streak again, the Clippers will waste no time pulling the plug on Del Negro and consulting with Paul and Blake Griffin on a list of possible replacements.
The good news for Del Negro is that Paul and Griffin like him but they both obviously like winning more. It will be important for Del Negro to put his stamp on the team this season and make sure if he does go down, that at least he does so coaching his style and not simply rolling the ball onto the court and asking Paul to make something happen. Far too often last season, that seemed to be the game plan. Del Negro’s excuse last year was that he had no training camp or practices and was working with a new roster of players. Those excuses won’t be around next season. Grade: C+