The Clippers’ offseason is only a few days old, but the clock is already ticking. They have until June 1 to decide if they want to pick up the team option on Vinny Del Negro’s contract, and how they decide could have a lasting impact on the direction of the team and its general manager, Neil Olshey, who is also currently without a deal for next year.
Pedro Moura of ESPN LA spoke with Olshey on Monday following the Clippers’ standard year-end exit interviews to discuss the immediate future:
“That’s not what we’re here to talk about,” Olshey said Monday. “Coaching contracts, GM contracts, trainer contracts, that’s not today. … All that stuff will sort itself out.”
“I think Vinny did a great job, and that’s as far as I’m going to go today,” Olshey added.
Del Negro refused to discuss his future when asked if he expected to be brought back for the 2012-2013 season.
“I’m not gonna get into all my contract stuff,” Del Negro said. “It’s a waste of energy and whatever I say, you’re not gonna listen anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”
Del Negro has spent two seasons as Clippers coach. Hired in July 2010, he’s compiled a regular-season record of 72-76 and a playoff record of 4-7. He spent the previous two years as coach of the Chicago Bulls and finished 81-81 there, getting bounced in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs both times.
Del Negro came under fire in March after the Clippers lost home games to Golden State and Phoenix, then went on the road and lost to Indiana, Oklahoma City and New Orleans.
He maintained at that time that he wouldn’t let any perceived threats to his job security affect the way he approached his job. He said similar things Monday, denying he’d be uncomfortable over the next 10 days by preparing for next season without the certainty he’ll be re-signed.
“It’s not, because I’m not worried about it,” Del Negro said. “I’ll let that stuff work itself out.”
One could argue that the coaching situation has room for improvement as the team looks to take the next step towards a title with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin entering the last years of their respective contracts — although Griffin is almost certain to sign a long-term extension this summer and Paul has made comments suggesting he is in L.A. for the long haul.
If the organization (meaning Olshey and, most importantly, Donald Sterling) does decide to go another way, there figures to be plenty of interest in the position. Coincidentally, on the same day that neither Olshey nor Del Negro offered much clarity on the situation, a well-qualified candidate found himself out of a job in Orlando. And it so happens that said candidate, possessor of a sterling reputation for coaching defense, might be a perfect fit for the Clips:
For four straight seasons, the Magic ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency — including first in 2008-09 and second the following season.
Over the five season span that (Stan) Van Gundy coached the team, the Magic ranked second-best in the league in defensive efficiency, second in defensive field goal percentage and first in points in the paint allowed.
All because of Dwight Howard, you say? Consider that in Howard’s three seasons before Van Gundy became head coach, the team ranked 15th, 11th and seventh in those categories.
That could be a product of Howard simply coming into his own and developing into a dominant force as an NBA player. But though Howard reportedly wanted the coach out of town, Van Gundy leaves with several impressive items on his coaching resume.
He reached the playoffs in all five seasons with the Magic and racked up 31 playoff wins. That’s more playoff wins than the franchise had in its previous 18 seasons of existence.
Since Van Gundy took over, he led the Magic to a better regular-season record than all but three teams. The only franchsies who were better are the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs.
He’s not likely to get mentioned in the same breath as Phil Jackson when discussing the greatest NBA coaches, but there is something big that Stan Van Gundy and Jackson have in common: neither coached a losing season.
Jackson coached 20 seasons and never had a losing record, while Van Gundy’s total was just eight seasons. Five with the Magic, three with the Heat. And yes, that includes the year with the Heat where Van Gundy was 11-10 before being replaced with Pat Riley.
But Elias tells us that Van Gundy is in rare company. Along with Jackson, the only others who coached at least eight seasons and never had a losing record are former Knicks coach Joe Lapchick and former 76ers coach Billy Cunningham. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
And Van Gundy’s .641 career winning percentage puts him in another elevated group: coaches with a winning percentage that high who have coached at least 500 games. Counting Van Gundy, that group is only six members and includes Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Red Auerbach.