Clips, Del Negro face June 1 deadline
LOS ANGELES -- The fate of Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro won't be known until next week at the earliest, according to sources close to the situation.
But Del Negro's status must be resolved by next Friday at the latest thanks to the June 1 deadline in his contract for the Clippers to either pick up or decline their third-year team option.
Sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com that the decision rests largely with Clippers owner Donald Sterling, which could help Del Negro. The embattled coach has enjoyed a largely positive relationship with Sterling over the past two seasons, with Sterling issuing a public vote of confidence in Del Negro in March after an ESPN.com report that his job was in jeopardy.
The Clippers then followed up Sterling's backing by winning 14 of their final 19 regular-season games and toppled the No. 4-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs in a grueling seven-game series before getting swept in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs with the star duo of Chris Paul (hip) and Blake Griffin (knee) trying to play through injuries.
It is not immediately clear whether a strong crop of out-of-work coaches -- such as Mike D'Antoni, Nate McMillan and the recently fired Stan Van Gundy -- might influence the Clippers' call on Del Negro. But NBA coaching sources said Thursday the Clippers, should they decide to move in another direction, would probably target two coaches who aren't free agents to see if there's any shot at prying one of them loose: Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks and New Orleans' Monty Williams.
Sources say Brooks' negotiations with the Thunder on a contract extension are unlikely to resume until after the playoffs, with Oklahoma City about to enter a Western Conference finals showdown with the Spurs. Yet the widely held assumption in coaching circles is that Brooks never reaches free agency and will reach terms quickly with the Thunder once the season is over, similar to the Dallas Mavericks' speedy negotiations with Rick Carlisle earlier this month after Mavericks owner Mark Cuban put off all contract talks until Dallas was eliminated from the postseason. The Thunder are 8-1 in the playoffs, having eliminated the two teams -- Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers -- that have won the past three NBA championships.
Any team interested in Williams, meanwhile, would have to formally ask for permission to interview him, with the Hornets having ample cause to reject any such interest after Williams -- who was just 38 when New Orleans took the gamble of hiring him -- earned strong reviews for his work in his first two seasons. But Paul's deep respect for Williams is well known around the league, which would seemingly encourage the Clippers to go after Williams if they have an opening.
Paul, though, publicly lauded Del Negro's work under fire this season after the Clippers were eliminated by San Antonio.
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"I think Coach did an outstanding job. Also with Neil and them in our front office," Paul said of Clippers general manager Neil Olshey. "Everybody knows what happened in mid-December with the trade going through and picking up Chauncey (Billups) off the waiver wire.
"With Chauncey going down and all the injuries we had to endure, it's been a roller-coaster season for us, but I think the way they managed everything was great. Bringing in (Kenyon Martin), bringing in Reggie (Evans); they did an outstanding job. The season was crazy enough with 66 games, but they helped us get here. Now we have to build from it."
Olshey and Del Negro himself tried to deflect questions about the future when they met with local reporters on the day after San Antonio's series-clinching win in Game 4.
"I think Vinny did a great job," Olshey said, "and that's as far as I'm going to go today."
Said Del Negro: "I'm not gonna get into all my contract stuff. It's a waste of energy and whatever I say, you're not gonna listen anyway, so it doesn't matter. ... I'm not worried about it. I'll let that stuff work itself out."
Hired in July 2010, Del Negro has compiled a regular-season record of 72-76 in two seasons with the Clippers and a playoff record of 4-7. He spent the previous two seasons as coach of the Chicago Bulls and finished 81-81 there, losing in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs both times.