Taking just over two weeks, news finally came out yesterday that the Clippers decided not to retain their head coach, Vinny Del Negro. What are the implications? What are the next steps? Our five panelists weight in:
1. How does a coaching change impact Chris Paul and/or Blake Griffin?
Jovan Buha: It will allow them to properly form the big-little synergy that we’ve yet to consistently see from them. Moreover, it increases the likelihood that Paul will re-sign with the Clippers this offseason — if he wanted Del Negro back, Del Negro would’ve been back — and will likely allow Griffin to be featured more frequently (and in better situations) in the new offense.
Patrick James: If nothing else, it says management is listening to them. Both stars were hoping for a new man behind the clipboard: Griffin issued some not so thinly veiled critiques of Del Negro’s defensive schemes during the Clippers’ mediocre March, and, more recently, CBS Sports’ Ken Berger suggested that Paul was “not a fan” of Del Negro’s.
Fred Katz: The swirling rumors claim that CP3 wasn’t Vinny Del Negro’s biggest fan. From that perspective, bringing Del Negro back would have shown at least some disregard for Paul’s desires. With Vinny gone, Paul now has the chance to have a major say in who should be the Clippers’ next coach.
Michael Shagrin: Chris Paul would never speak out publicly against his coach. He wouldn’t do it for a current coach or a former coach. But Chris Paul was “not a fan” of Vinny Del Negro. Now there’s a big crop of talented head coaches on the market with many already having built strong relationships with Paul. Unless the newly active Donald T. Sterling becomes overly involved, no other franchise can match what’s being offered (competitively or financially) in Clipperland. Paul stays.
Seerat Sohi: In a nutshell, positively. It’s likely that Paul is much more optimistic at this time today than he was 24 hours ago about his future with the Clippers. Not to mention, the days of the Chris-Paul-or-bust offense look to be dead. Griffin, on the other hand, has never had a chance to learn from an experienced NBA coach during his career. The potential for an increase in skill and discipline could do wonders for him.
2. How does a coaching change impact Eric Bledsoe and/or DeAndre Jordan?
Buha: Now neither player will be traded until the new coach is hired and has time to determine what his plan of action with the current roster is. The chances of Bledsoe being traded are still extremely high, but the new coach will have a reasonable voice in the type of package the Clippers haul in such a deal.
James: We know that Jordan and Bledsoe were increasingly marginalized under Del Negro, who certainly under-utilized them and probably stymied their growth, but we don’t know how the next hire will use them. Assets have only as much value as you leverage, either on the floor or on the market. And who knows what role the next coach will play w/r/t personel decisions.
Katz: We all assume it’s a done deal that Bledsoe will be traded. That might be getting ahead of ourselves. If a new coach comes in and decides that Bledsoe is a shooting guard and can play 20 minutes a game at off guard while also acting as the backup point guard, then maybe Bledsoe is actually extended and not traded. And as for DeAndre, he might actually get an opportunity to play in fourth quarters.
Shagrin: If Eric Bledsoe remains in Los Angeles, he’ll stay shrouded in the overwhelming shadow of Chris Paul, coaching change or not. However, Bledsoe’s trade value could improve immensely in just a few months under a defensive-minded head coach. Bledsoe’s stock is currently pretty high, but his game is still primarily athleticism. If a cerebral coach can deploy him effectively within a swarming defensive system, Bledsoe will be all the more attractive.
Sohi: As a Bulls fan, I’ve always had a theory about Vinny: you don’t really know what you’ve got in your players as long as he’s around. Bledsoe and DJ will A) like Griffin, have the potential to benefit from an experienced coach and B) blossom or bust. Either way, it’ll be their own doing.
3. Does the decision to seek a new coach impact the perception of the franchise?
Buha: Yes. The Clippers have a done a great job of shedding the stigma that surrounded the franchise over the last three to four years, and this is another monumental step. They took their time (over two weeks), fairly evaluated their options, and ultimately made the difficult decision of dismissing Del Negro (whom Donald Sterling was fond of). Job well done.
James: That the organization didn’t wait until the 11th hour to part ways with Del Negro (they had until June 30) suggests more savvy than we’d historically expect from the Clippers, sure. And now the job might be the most desirable in the league. But perception still hinges on the next hire, Chris Paul’s free agency, and whatever the team does next year.
Katz: The Clippers didn’t fire Del Negro; they just decided not to retain him. And though that yields the same result practically, not firing Del Negro means it cost the organization nothing to let him walk. If the Clips go out and commit to a big-time coach long term and sign Gary Sacks to a legitimate contract, then maybe it’s time to start talking about a culture change. If not, that conversation is probably premature.
Shagrin: Yes, but not significantly. The franchise’s upward ascent into respectability has been steep. It seemed the Clippers might peter off last offseason when Sterling retained Vinny Del Negro and failed to retain Neil Olshey. But the front-office triumvirate rose to the occasion and Del Negro’s hands-off style worked well with the Clippers’ deep, veteran roster. The first-round loss to Memphis was a backwards slide, but the distance is small enough that it can be easily recouped under a superior head coach.
Sohi: Yes and no. Most good franchises would have gotten rid of Vinny much sooner than the Clippers did. For some reason, VDN had the management on his side last summer. The fact that this has changed over a season is encouraging. The fact that it took two full seasons to get rid of him, not so much. Firing Vinny was the obvious move, the coach they select to replace him will shed more light on the franchise.
4. Which rumored candidate would you least like to see coach the Clippers?
Buha: Disclaimer: I believe all of the rumored coaches would be an upgrade over Del Negro. That being said, I’m not as high on Lionel Hollins (and his enormous price tag) as most people are. He’s not a bad coach by any means, but some of his rotations — religiously playing Darrell Arthur over Ed Davis; playing Keyon Dooling at all — are a little questionable, as is his aversion to advanced stats.
James: I’d least like to see any hire where price is the ultimate consideration. The team needs an identity—not just in the locker room, but on the floor. That said, known commodities can be misleading. Take Byron Scott: are you getting the guy who went to back-to-back finals by building New Jersey’s brilliant defense, or is he the man behind Cleveland’s dreadful D?
Katz: Byron Scott for a couple reasons. First, Scott has found success but his teams historically don’t play much more defense than those of Del Negro. When the Nets were strong on the defensive side of the ball, assistant coach Lawrence Frank received much of the credit for that. Once he left, Scott’s defenses went downhill. On top of that, the Cavs owe Scott $4 million for this season. That means there’s an offset if the Clippers hire him, similar to the situation that the Clips had when they first hired Del Negro. Maybe it doesn’t actually mean anything, but symbolically, it’d be hard to argue that there has been a “change in Clipper culture” after a hire like that.
Shagrin: Alvin Gentry. To be honest, I like every name I’ve heard. The young unproven assistants come from great coaching stock and the seasoned veterans have reputations for being both tactical and professional. Though Gentry’s time at the helm of Suns was less than stellar, he spent a decade on the bench in Phoenix during prime years of the Steve Nash era. At the very least, he comes from a point guard-centric perspective.
Sohi: Alvin Gentry. Jack of all trades, master of none. Where Gentry excels (the offensive end), the Clippers need the least help. Gentry’s going to be interviewing with many teams this summer, some of which he’ll fit like a glove in. The Clippers aren’t one of them.
5. Who should the next coach be for the Clippers?
Buha: Stan Van Gundy. If he’s still reluctant to coach next season, then his brother Jeff would be a great second option. If the Clippers aren’t willing to spend that much, I prefer a smart assistant coach — like Mike Malone or Brian Shaw — over a slightly overhyped name like Byron Scott or Alvin Gentry.
James: If I can reframe the question as “who’s the best available,” then the answer is Stan Van Gundy (I just can’t see his brother leaving his current job). SVG can nurture big guys and devise schemes, and he’d be a post-game joy. Mike Malone might be my preferred choice, though other teams appear to be courting him with more passion than the Clippers are.
Katz: Jerry Sloan. But that doesn’t mean anyone other than Sloan would be a failure. Either one of the Van Gundys would be excellent. It’d be hard to knock a Mike Malone hire, as well. But Sloan coached arguably the best pick-and-roll tandem of all time in John Stockton and Karl Malone. Imagine what he might be able to do with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Shagrin: A current assistant coach named Mike. However, strongly I believe in implementing a coherent system; there’s something to be said for having the best point guard on the planet manage the game from the floor. Malone and Budenholzer would be tactical assets to Paul during crunch time but they also wouldn’t be as hesitant to relinquish the reigns as say Jerry Sloan or Stan Van Gundy. Oh, and they’d be easier on the checkbook.
Sohi: The obvious answers (one of the Van Gundy brothers, Jerry Sloan, Lionel Hollins and of course, Phil Jackson) are also the least likely. The Clippers should go after Mike Malone and hope they strike gold.
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