When Chauncey Billups went down with an achilles injury last season, we all knew it would be tough for him to recover. Mr. Big shot was still playing very effective basketball for the Clippers as the starting 2 guard; through 20 games he was averaging 15 points, shooting 38% from three, and getting to the free throw line better than 5 times a game. Clips nation was hopeful that he would be able to return and resume his role as the Clippers floor spreader in the starting lineup but various injuries and, well, his age, prevented that from happening. Billups played Just 22 games in the regular season in 2013 and never really looked like himself for any consistent amount of time.
Billups worked his way back for the playoff series against the Grizzlies, but unfortunately, was not able to contribute significantly, and at times appeared to be hurting the team more than helping. The 5 time all-star and Finals MVP (and perhaps one of the best players of the last decade) was a defensive liability against the grizzlies (no longer able to defend the pg guard position and undersized against the likes of Tony Allen), and was a non factor on Offense. It is difficult to say how much of his play was rust vs diminishing skillset/athletic ability.
Leadership and confidence, free throw shooting and three point shooting. Chauncey is a crafty, savvy veteran who is not afraid to let it go from beyond the arc. Before the injury last season Billups was still getting to the free throw line almost 5 times a game despite having clearly lost a step or two. A great knowledge of the game, and by all accounts a great "locker room guy."
Before I criticize Billups I will say that I think it would be difficult for any player coming off of an achilles injury (and then battling additional injuries for a full season) to come back and play well. This is even more difficult for a 36 year old who should be experiencing a natural decline in athletic ability. Whatever the reason, the Billups we saw this season was rather one dimensional offensively, with 4 of every 6 shots hoisted from beyond the arc (and almost 8 3-pt attempts per 36 minutes). These shots often come in transition or early in the shot clock, something he was fantastic at doing for so many years, but which often seemed ill-advised in his limited minutes in 2013. Chauncey did not show an inclination/ability to get into the lane, draw fouls and finish with contact (Chauncey for his career averaged about 1/3 of his points from the free throw line). Defensively, any player coming off of an achilles injury might struggle to guard their position, but Billups also happens to be a 36 year old playing out of his natural position. Against Memphis, Billups was a defensive liability, and the Grizzlies too advantage when he was on the floor.
Future with the Clippers:
Chauncey is a free agent, and while there has been some speculation that he could return as the backup point guard if Eric Bledsoe is dealt, it is more likely that he will not be a part of the teams plans going forward. It seems like too great of a risk to invest in a player his age with his recent injuries to play such a critical role. If Billups is happy to play a role similar to that which Grant Hill played this season, he could stay on as end of the rotation player on a near minimum salary, but it seems unlikely. Billups probably does have enough left in the tank for a relatively productive bench role while playing coach on the bench/floor for the right team. Wherever he ends up we wish him the best, he is a big time NBA player and the Clippers were lucky to have him a part of their franchise for these last two seasons.
Though he helped the Clippers to their best record in franchise history and back-to-back Western Conference playoff appearances, those weren't enough for Vinny Del Negro to keep his job as coach of the team.
Del Negro said that being let go Tuesday was "hard to take," but that he understood how the business of professional basketball works.
He said he was happy to help change the Clippers' culture.
He also wanted to thank Clippers owner Donald Sterling, President Andy Roeser, Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks and director of basketball administration Eric Miller.
"You try not to ever be surprised, but it is a business," Del Negro said in a phone interview from his home in Phoenix. "But I want to thank the fans, the organization and Mr. and Mrs. Sterling for giving me this opportunity.... I want to thank the players and my entire staff for their effort and support."
Del Negro helped the Clippers to several historic marks during the 2012-13 season.
The Clippers won their first first Pacific Division championship and had a franchise-best 56-26 record.
They had a franchise-best 17-game winning streak, 16-0 during the month of December.
Over three years as coach of the Clippers, Del Negro had a 128-102 record.
"I'm proud of what we've done there, things that had never been done there before," Del Negro said. "But it's hard to take. I do think the organization is in a much better place. This is disappointing, but I also feel very fortunate. You move forward from here."
Almost three weeks after the Clippers were knocked out of the Western Conference playoffs, the team decided to part ways with Coach Vinny Del Negro on Tuesday.
- Byron Scott
Prior Jobs: Sacramento Kings assistant (1998-2000), New Jersey Nets head coach (2000-2004), New Orleans Hornets head coach (2004-2009), Cleveland Cavaliers head coach (2009-2013)
Head coaching record: 416-521 (.444), 2 NBA Finals Appearances
Scott, a former NBA player, is perhaps one of the least popular candidates among Clippers fans. Chris Paul's old head coach from New Orleans, Scott is perhaps drawing the most interest due to his connection with the All-Star point guard. While he won 3 NBA championships as a player, he's been less successful as a coach, winning less than half of his games in 11 full seasons and 2 partial ones. He won coach of the year in 2009, but was fired by the Hornets 9 games in to the next season.
- Brian Shaw
Head coaching record: 0-0
Shaw, another former player, has had his name thrown around by the mainstream media quite a bit during this process. The reason for it is unclear to me. He's a 3-time Champion as a player and a 2-time champion as an assistant coach, all with Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and the Lakers. I don't know a lot about Shaw, but I'm wary testing out an unproven rookie head coach who used to be a player. You know, like the Clippers did last time.
- Mike Malone
Head coaching record: 0-0
Another rookie head coach, Mike Malone has made his rounds in the last decade as a well respected assistant. He's currently the highest paid assistant in the league for the Golden State Warriors. Malone is given a lot of credit for the Warriors' offensive and defensive improvement this season, as well as the improvement of the Hornets when he was an assistant there under Byron Scott. Again, it's risky to hire a first-time head coach, but at least Malone isn't a former player-turned coach. That means that he had to earn his way up the ranks based on coaching ability- evidenced by his rather hard-to-track resume. If Chris Paul recommends Malone (he played under Malone in New Orleans for a season), I wouldn't have a hard time seeing Mike get serious consideration from the Clippers.
- Mike Budenholzer
Head coaching record: Unknown (He's filled in for Popovich for a few games at a time but I can't find his record)
Budenholzer is one of the most widely respected assistant coaches in the league- actually, probably the single most highly respected assistant. He's been in San Antonio under one of the greatest coaches ever in Greg Popovich for nearly 20 years. He's interviewed for head coaching positions before, but for whatever reason he's never taken a job. Maybe he hasn't been offered or maybe he's turned some positions down. If he likes this Clippers team, and the situation is right for him, and the team decides to offer him the job, I could see him as a good option.
- Stan Van Gundy
Head coaching record: 371-208 (.641), 1 NBA Finals Appearance
Stan Van Gundy is an accomplished coach who would probably still be in Orlando if it wasn't for the Dwightmare. Unfortunately, it seems like he won't be a candidate for the Clippers job, as he's announced that he's going to take at least one more season off of coaching to be with his family. If that changes, I would hope to see him get an interview.
- Jeff Van Gundy
Head Coaching Record: 430-318 (.575), 1 NBA Finals Appearance
Jeff Van Gundy, brother of Stan Van Gundy, has been out of the NBA since 2007, but he's still been around, broadcasting nationally televised games. Personally, I really like Van Gundy, and I'd like to see him at least interviewed by the Clippers in this process. I believe that he's had opportunities to get back into coaching in the last few years, but he prefers the broadcasting booth. Maybe the Clippers job is intriguing enough to lure him back. Either way I think he's definitely worth an interview, and he's a strong candidate out of the gate.
- Nate McMillan
Head Coaching Record: 478-452 (.514)
Nate is an interesting name on the list. Some members of the media speculate that he'll have a position by the end of the summer, and it's just a matter of who can get him. The Clippers certainly seem to be the best option for any free agent coach. While he never had any especially talented teams in Portland, he always had them playing hard, and he always seemed to scrape out wins with large amounts of unfortunate injuries. Would he be as effective coaching a contender? It's hard to know. Nate has some defensive expertise, as he led the NBA in steals in 1994 and made the All-NBA Defensive Second Team in 1994 and 1995 as a member of the Sonics. I would like to get him an interview as well.
- Jerry Sloan
Head Coaching Record: 1221-803 (.603), 2 NBA Finals Appearances
Here's the deal with Jerry Sloan: you don't interview him. You call him and offer him the job, and if he accepts, you pay him whatever his rate is. He's that type of coach. He's literally a living legend. His offense in Utah worked so well to create easy baskets, and there's a reason he almost always led the Jazz to the playoffs. Hopefully he can adjust his Stockton/Malone offense to fit Paul/Griffin. I would honestly be ecstatic if he was the Clippers' new head coach.
- Phil Jackson
Head Coaching Record: 1155-485 (.704), 13 NBA Finals Appearances, 11 NBA Championships
Here's the deal with Phil Jackson: you don't interview him. If he wants the job, he calls and tells you, and he's in the office the next day making eight figures. It's that simple. However, I only put him in here because his name is mentioned so much. He says he doesn't want to coach again, and I believe him.
- Lionel Hollins
Head Coaching Record: 214-201 (.516)
Lionel Hollins is an interesting case. He's currently coaching the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals, but his contract is expiring and there were hints of disagreement between him and management all season long. He didn't like the Rudy Gay trade and new ownership could be looking to move in a new direction. There's also the reports that Clippers owner Donald Sterling went to San Antonio-Memphis Game 1 to scout Lionel as a coach. Ultimately, I don't think this will matter, as after the great success the Grizzlies have enjoyed this season, I would be shocked if Hollins doesn't get a long and lucrative extension to stay in Memphis. Which could be dodging a bullet, because I'm not convinced that Hollins is that much better than Vinny Del Negro.
Why mess with success when you have known only defeat previously?
It's Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals in San Antonio. The Spurs beat the Grizzlies handily in Game 1, completely neutralizing Zach Randolph, but don't forget that Memphis lost big to the Clippers in Game 1 and then lost Game 1 to the Thunder as well.
We're hosting the SBNation network-wide open thread here at Clips Nation tonight, so be nice. No sour grapes about Marc Gasol whining or Z-Bo pounding on people -- not that anyone here would do that anyway.
The game starts at 9 Eastern, 6 Pacific on ESPN.
The Clippers coaching situation has been uncertain since the team picked up Vinny Del Negro's option last summer. They decided not to offer him a new contract, and now the search for a new coach begins.
It's always out there at some level, but the last few days have brought a new crop of "Vinny Del Negro on the hot seat" stories. Marc Stein of ESPN.com had him on the warm throne in his Weekend Dime, then Sekou Smith put him on the toasty chair in his Hangtime blog at NBA.com. Zach Lowe writing in Grantland about unimaginative offense in the NBA didn't mention Del Negro by name, but took several swipes at the Clippers lack of invention in their offensive sets, a clear indictment of the coach.
Let's look at what some of these fine NBA writers had to say. Things like this...
Vinny Del Negro insisted before a recent loss in Dallas that he has "a great future no matter what." The signals are nonetheless getting stronger and stronger that said future won't be at Staples Center, with Del Negro working on the flimsy final year of his original Clippers contract and L.A. looking nothing like the team -- whether that's due to health woes, locker-room fissures or coaching issues -- that won 17 straight games in December.
Could a deep playoff run save him? Even that might not be enough entering the most critical summer in the Clippers' history, with Chris Paul becoming a free agent July 1 and Clips management having always planned to let Paul have a big say (assuming he wants one) before any coach gets another long-term deal from them.
Del Negro has just as many detractors as he does supporters these days. Three different league executives have suggested that he's done a much better job than he gets credit for, when you consider how raw the Clippers' frontcourt remains with youngsters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan still coming into their own.
Del Negro's critics quickly point out that an All-Star and one of the top 10 centers in the league is a pretty good place to start your frontcourt rotation. Plus, they say, Griffin and Jordan's rawness has as much with Del Negro (and his staff's) inability to polish them up as it does anything else.
The Clippers have dealt with health issues and rumored locker room drama all season, but they also kicked off the NBA's season of win streaks with a 17-gamer early in the season that cranked expectations (on the team and Del Negro) to unattainable proportions. The only thing that might solidify Del Negro's status is a run to the Western Conference finals ... and that might work.
Predictable offenses with otherworldly talent can still get a team far; the Clippers can win a lot of games with 45 Chris Paul-Blake Griffin pick-and-rolls and 45 Griffin post-ups....
Coaches with stale offenses - think Utah, Brooklyn, the Clippers - are hurting their teams, even if those teams have enough talent to produce some solid overall scoring numbers.
So is any of this criticism fair? Probably not.
I'm not going to try to justify that Vinny Del Negro is a great X's and O's guy. He's not, and he'd admit as much. But it seems to me that there's a basic disconnect occurring when people are complaining about the fourth most efficient offense in the NBA. The Clippers score 110.6 points per 100 possessions according to basketball-reference, the fourth best efficiency in the NBA. The teams ahead of them are the Thunder, the Heat and the Knicks. One wonders where Lowe might expect the Clippers offensive efficiency to be, were Del Negro not "hurting" the team so much. Offensive "geniuses" like Gregg Popovich of the Spurs and George Karl of the Nuggets, coaching talented teams that are offensive juggernauts, don't achieve the same offensive efficiency as Del Negro's Clippers.
Now, I've said many times and it remains true, that having Chris Paul on your team hides a lot of coaching flaws. Critics of Del Negro can reasonably argue that he's done little more than get out of Paul's way and let him lead the offense -- but at least he's done that, right? There's little or no empirical evidence that Del Negro is holding the team back. Even on the defensive end, with a group of players not previously known for their defensive chops, the Clippers are eighth in the league in defensive efficiency -- a vast improvement over last year's team. In the process of improving from 18th rated defense in the league to the eighth rated defense, without a major personnel upgrade in terms of outstanding individual defenders, Del Negro finds himself on the sweltering chaise? I mean, I get it, he doesn't exactly inspire a ton of confidence, but let's not pretend this is about anything other than gut feelings, because it's pretty damn tough to make a case that the Clippers are underperforming.
My favorite line from this batch of critiques has got to be this one from Sekou Smith: "The Clippers have dealt with health issues and rumored locker room drama all season." They have? Injuries sure, and that should be a reason to cut VDN some slack. "Rumored locker room drama"? "All season"? I think it's relatively safe to say that I follow the Clippers more closely than most people, and by my count there has been one story -- one -- with rumors of locker room drama. That story appeared last week from the desk of noted provocateur T.J. Simers and was summarily dismissed by anyone with even a passing familiarity with his work. How does one overblown story from week 23 of a 24 week season qualify as "rumored locker room drama all season"? Answer: it doesn't. In fact, the "rumor" is that the Clippers locker room is extraordinarily close.
Which leads me to this story from Hardwood Paroxysm. Dylan Murphy explains on Vinny Del Negro sucks, because, well, he just does. He sucks, and everyone knows it, and everyone has always known it. The simple fact is, very few people really get coaching, and the conventional wisdom has always been that Del Negro is a bad coach. Short of winning a championship, there's little that Del Negro can do to combat that perception, since he will by definition have come up short if the Clippers don't win it all. Heck, if having an offense ranked behind only OKC and Miami and New York can still justify criticism that he's "hurting" the offense, then the deck would seem to be stacked against VDN.
I've long come back to one thing about Del Negro: his teams play hard for him, especially at the end of the season. Motivating and relating to players is at least as important as X's and O's, which at the end of the day don't vary that much from team to team. Consider this: Popovich is justifiably viewed as the best coach in the league at present, running the most sophisticated schemes. Yet Boris Diaw can sign a contract with the Spurs on March 23rd, 2012 and play 16 effective minutes that night. Basketball is basketball, and all 30 teams are running variations on the same things. Diaw didn't have to study for weeks and learn a fundamentally different way to play -- he's a basketball player and Pop put him on the floor after one shootaround.
Del Negro is in his fifth season as a head coach, and his teams have closed strong in his first four, even when they had many reasons not to. This season's Clippers lost three straight at a bad time, at the start of the final ten games. But if Del Negro can get them to close strong over the final seven, he will have shown once again that he can get a locker room to listen to him even as the NBA calendar drags on into it's fifth month.
Does all this mean that I think Del Negro should coach the Clippers next season? Obviously, the final five regular season games and the playoffs will yet have an impact on the decision. Being swept in the first round would indicate one answer, winning a championship would require another. Odds are that the reality will lie in a place much more nuanced -- say for instance a second round exit at the hands of the Thunder in seven games. What then?
Much will depend on Chris Paul, as indeed it should. Players win basketball games, and if Paul has an opinion about next season's coach, particularly one that impacts his free agency, then by all means it should be taken into consideration. The Clippers could probably do better than Vinny Del Negro. But here's the thing that I'm not sure people are fully grasping -- they could also do worse.