Sources: Del Negro could return
The Los Angeles Clippers, after following up the first division title in franchise history with a disappointing first-round playoff exit, have not ruled out bringing back coach Vinny Del Negro, according to sources close to the process.
Sources told ESPN.com that there is a level of interest within the organization to extend Del Negro's contract despite the widespread assumption in league circles that the embattled coach would take the fall for the Clippers' six-game exit to the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 1.
The final call ultimately rests with Clippers owner Donald Sterling -- who is regarded as Del Negro's biggest backer in the organization -- but one source close to the process said Wednesday that team officials were still deliberating and that no decision has been made yet.
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Sources stressed that Sterling could still wind up deciding to go another direction entering a critical summer for the team with Chris Paul bound for free agency July 1. But initial conversations between the team and Del Negro are said to have been positive after the team won a club-record 56 games and overcame a steady stream of injuries to finish with the No. 4 seed in the West.
Early indications were that the Clippers would likely make a decision on Del Negro -- whose contract expires June 30 -- within a week or so of their Game 6 loss in Memphis on May 3. But the process has taken longer because Sterling generally prefers to take his time on major decisions.
The longer Sterling has taken to consider the situation, sources say, the more Del Negro's chances of scoring another short-term contract have been boosted.
Sterling has preferred to give short-term contracts to Clippers coaches and front-office executives after he had to pay out the remainder of former coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy's five-year, $22 million contract when he fired Dunleavy in 2010.
At least one other team with a coaching vacancy is interested in speaking to Del Negro, according to one source close to the process, but so far Del Negro has pursued only a return to the Clippers.
Clippers general manager Gary Sacks said after the season that he would speak with the Clippers' players and weigh their opinions before making a decision on Del Negro and the roster improvements L.A. needs going forward. Those meetings took place last week.
"Every offseason is huge," Sacks said. "Last offseason was huge. Vinny and I worked really closely to put this team together and get what we thought were the right pieces for our team to compete and be as good as we possibly could be as an organization. We came up short, and that's a disappointment. But we have to look at a lot of the positives. I thought he and the staff did a really good job during the season. We need to move forward looking for ways of improving ourselves to go further and achieve our goals."
ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst contributed to this report.
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