See what happens when I try to have a nice dinner and movie with the ClipperWife? The Clippers go and announce that they've hired a new coach. Thanks to Citizen banandy for getting the FanShot posted, and thanks to Citzen Zhiv for getting something on the front page.
It's about time this coach thing got taken care of. The Clippers are the last of seven NBA teams to hire a coach this offseason. The delay was at first presented as strategery, a big old coach-shaped bargaining chip in the LeBron James negotiations. In the end, it came off as the ultimate in reactivity. Neil Olshey didn't want too many chefs spoiling his draftilicious broth, while Andy Roeser wanted to let the market shake out a bit, so as not to get into any bidding wars with other teams. We'll never really know how the Clippers looked to Team LeBron, walking into the big meeting without a coach (a guy a potential free agent might like to, you know, meet). Maybe the Clippers can get another meeting with LeBron to introduce their new coach before the big prime time special on Thursday ("Tonight, on a very special 'LeBron'"), and maybe LeBron will choose the Clippers proving that not having a coach in the presentation was irrelevant or even advantageous. But probably not.
What were we talking about?
Oh yeah, Vinny Del Negro. Honestly, I don't know why I am so hostile to the idea of VDN as head coach. His accomplishments with the Bulls in his two seasons as a head coach have not been unimpressive. He took the team to the playoffs two straight years, despite the fact that ownership was cutting costs the entire time. Both seasons, he had his team playing their best basketball during the stretch run - the Bulls closed the season 12 and 4 in 08-09, and 10 and 4 in 09-10, squeezing into a playoff spot each time when it seemed all but impossible in mid March. Of course, he's the same coach that got them into that nearly impossible situation (the Bulls lost 10 straight before turning it on this season)... but give him credit for getting out of it as well.
It's also worth noting that Chicago took the Celtics to seven games in a series for the ages back in April 2009, a series that featured seven overtime periods.
Then, between then and this year's playoffs, all his management did was let that team's leading scorer walk in free agency, and trade the second leading scorer in a trade deadline salary dump to get ready for the LeBronfest. So making the playoffs at all was quite an accomplishment this season, considering the lack of support he received from his front office. (He received so littlle support, that his GM actually got into a fight him at one point.)
So why don't I like him?
I don't really watch the Bulls a lot, but I've never gotten the impression that Del Negro was much for X's and O's. I can't give a lot of specifics, but it always seemed like Chicago under Del Negro was just Derrick Rose running the show. I didn't see great game management, I didn't see great sets out of time outs - VDN seemed a little like a deer in the head lights on the sideline. It's totally unscientific and I hate being that way and I hope I'm wrong. But that's always been my impression. I'm perfectly willing to accept the distinct possiblity that I'm totally wrong. Like I said, I don't really watch that many Bulls games.
It doesn't help his standing with me that he's now gotten two NBA coaching jobs (both times beating out poor Dwane Casey) based at least partly on his presentation skills, his ability to SELL himself as a coach, as opposed to his ability to coach. By all accounts, Casey was the favorite for both the Chicago job in 2008 and for the Clippers job when the formal interviews started, at which point Del Negro overtook him and won the position. That's part of the process, to be certain. But as a guy who's never been in sales, I have a certain disdain for the pitch.
Of course, his ability to sell may be his greatest strength as a coach as well and may explain the late season successes of his teams. It would seem that even if he is a less than stellar basketball strategist, that he is a terrific motivator, and arguably that's the most important task of the head coach. You can hire assistants to diagram plays and to coach defensive rotations, and hopefully you're not really going to have to do a lot of skills coaching during a game anyway. But getting an NBA team to give maximum effort every night is the real challenge in an 82 game season. And even if the Bulls maybe had some bad nights along the way, VDN had them playing hard (and well) at the end of the season, which is certainly something that we haven't seen from the Clippers in a long time.
There are a couple of things I find a tad strange about the choice concerning fit. For one thing, the Clippers say that they want to run. Well, although the Bulls did play at a slightly above average pace for two seasons under VDN, I wouldn't have called them a running team really. Still, at least they were getting in more possessions than the NBA average, so maybe he and Olshey are seeing eye to eye on that question. The bigger issue seems to be that VDN had a very different team in Chicago than he will have in LA. The Bulls have have had no low post scorer to speak of for the last two seasons, relying almost entirely on Derrick Rose driving to the basket and the perimeter scoring of Ben Gordon and Luol Deng and John Salmons. The Clippers have Chris Kaman and Blake Griffin, who will need to be heavily featured in the half court, even if the team does successfully run when they can. I suppose Del Negro hasn't shown that he can't coach a low post team - but he certainly hasn't shown that he can.
One thing Olshey and Roeser liked was VDN's results in developing young players, specifically with Rose and Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson (though a cynic might point out that he was unable to get much out of Tyrus Thomas). With a roster of featuring six players under 21 (so far, they could add more of course), it's crucial that the Clippers do a good job of developing their youngsters, especially future cornerstones Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. If Del Negro is the man to do that, then he's the right man for the job.