|ESPN.com: NBA||[Print without images]|
LOS ANGELES -- Vinny Del Negro is out as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers after their first-round playoff exit.
Following one of the best seasons in franchise history, the Clippers said Tuesday that Del Negro won't be offered a new contract when his current one expires at the end of June.
Del Negro is just the second coach to leave the team with a winning record, following Larry Brown in 1993.
"This was a difficult decision, but we feel this is the best decision for our franchise moving forward," said Gary Sacks, the Clippers' vice president of basketball operations.
Del Negro and Sterling never officially met in person after the season, but they did have an extended conversation on the phone last weekend that a source described as "positive."
Sterling told Del Negro that he was "optimistic they'd bring him back," the source said, but there "were some issues with the players" they needed to sort through.
"Obviously they couldn't work through those issues with the players, or, player," the source said, referring to Clippers guard Chris Paul.
Del Negro was surprised when he was informed of the organization's decision on Tuesday morning, the source said. Team president Andy Roeser thanked him for his service and said the organization would do whatever it could to help him find another job, the source said.
A Clippers source told ESPN Los Angeles that the team "really is starting our search for a new coach now," but they intend to move quickly.
One source with knowledge of the Clippers' thinking said Phil Jackson would "pretty much be excluded" from consideration because of his engagement to Lakers executive Jeanie Buss. While the source insisted it wasn't a reflection on Jackson's coaching ability, it would simply be "too creepy" for the Clippers to bring in a coach who was engaged to the owner of their crosstown rival.
Jackson repeatedly has insisted he's not interested in a return to coaching, preferring a front-office role instead. One source with knowledge of Jackson's thinking said generally -- not specifically in relation to the Clippers -- that "he could be talked into" coaching again if he "had influence" on personnel decisions and the situation was a good fit.
While assessing Del Negro during the past two weeks, sources indicate the Clippers had also surveyed other available coaches.
League sources expect the Clippers to give strong consideration to a number of candidates, among them Indiana Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw, former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott, former Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry and Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Malone.
Of those, Scott and Malone have ties to Paul.
Gentry has previously worked for the Clippers on two occasions, but a source with knowledge of the situation said he "left on great terms" and has maintained a relationship with both Sterling and Roeser.
Paul, who becomes a free agent July 1, was among the players consulted by management after the season. However, a source close to the situation stressed that Paul is currently more interested in observing the situation and how the organization handles it than asserting his opinion.
Del Negro had a 128-102 regular-season record in three seasons with the team. The Clippers made the playoffs the past two seasons, including last season when they advanced to the second round for only the second time since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1984.
The Clippers won a franchise-record 56 games this season, had a 17-game winning streak and won the club's first Pacific Division title. But the Clippers were ousted by the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, losing in six games after taking a 2-0 series lead.
"We would like to thank Vinny for everything he did during his three years with the organization," Sacks said. "Vinny helped this team win a Pacific Division title and we greatly appreciate all that he and his staff helped us accomplish."
Del Negro had the highest winning percentage (.557) for a coach in the club's beleaguered history. He is the only Clippers coach to have consecutive winning seasons since the Buffalo Braves moved to California and became the Clippers in 1978. The Clippers had just six winning seasons in their first 41 years. Now they've put together consecutive winning records and playoff appearances for the first time in 20 years.
Much of the credit for the dramatic turnaround went to Paul and Blake Griffin. Del Negro was criticized at times this season for his rotations, and there was speculation about whether he would return.
Paul and Griffin have been supportive of their coach, and two weeks ago Sacks acknowledged that the players' opinions would be part of the decision on Del Negro.
ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and The Associated Press contributed to this report.