Commentary

Clips try to beat odds with Del Negro

The new Clippers coach made it clear he wanted to be in Los Angeles

Updated: July 7, 2010, 9:59 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Matt A. Brown/Icon SMIMatt A. Brown/Icon SMIVinny Del Negro's ability to beat the odds and his enthusiasm to be a Clipper made him a solid choice.

That's twice now that Vinny Del Negro has come from out of nowhere to land a coveted coaching job -- probably a good thing if you're a Clippers fan.

Barring some last-minute bolt of lightning that turns the NBA into the sideways world from "Lost" in which LeBron James announces Thursday he'll be signing with the Clippers, this is a franchise that needs a leader who is not afraid to go up against long odds.

That's always what the Clippers will be up against in this town. No matter how good their young core of players is, how bright Baron Davis' smile is, or how many 20-10 games Chris Kaman comes up with, the Clippers are a team that needs to defy both the historical odds and the odds currently right in front of them as they try to make a name for themselves in Los Angeles.

Del Negro landed this job with what sources said were two strong, compelling interviews with the Clippers brass. But what also intrigued the Clippers was his obvious enthusiasm for the job.

Remember, Del Negro was still owed $2 million from the Bulls next season. He was under no financial pressure to land a new job. But according to people close to him and the process, he pursued the Clippers job vigorously.

Last week, Clippers general manager Neil Olshey talked about wanting players who "want to be here and want to be here for the right reasons" when asked what profile the team was looking for in prospective free agents. That philosophy obviously extended to the coaching search.

Was Del Negro a splashy hire? Not after the messy way his two-year stint in Chicago ended.

He left town with a mixed reputation. Well-liked by both young and veteran players, but still a little green as a tactician. And then, of course, there was that incident with general manager John Paxson over Del Negro playing Joakim Noah too many minutes when he was coming back from a foot injury.

But for a guy who came to Chicago with no head coaching experience and was hired amid a collective roar of "Who did the Bulls just hire?" Del Negro ended up doing pretty well for himself and his team, leading them to two straight playoff appearances while artfully guiding the development of young stars Derrick Rose and Noah.

"I learned a lot from him, and I got two great playoff appearances with him," Noah told ESPNChicago.com when Del Negro was fired after this season.

"Coaching the Bulls is a tough job; there are a lot of demands and expectations. I wish him the best. He's a good guy. With the way he developed the players here I'm sure he won't have too hard of a time finding another coaching job."

The Clippers took their time with this coaching search. They conducted phone interviews with about a dozen candidates, and systematically whittled their list down over the course of a few months.

They were able to take their time because assistants Kim Hughes and Fred Vinson were willing to stick around and work with the young players at the training facility even after their contracts expired June 30.

In the end, it came down to Del Negro and Dallas assistant Dwane Casey. Both would have been solid hires with visible question marks, as each man had been fired in his first head-coaching stint.

Casey entered the final round of interviews as the presumed favorite because of his reputation around the league. He is regarded as a grinder and a solid X's and O's man with a down-to-earth personality. In interviews, that's exactly how he came off.

It was Del Negro who surprised and wowed the Clippers, though. He came in with a focused and highly detailed presentation and plan for how to develop young players like Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. One source close to the situation described him as "presidential" and "charismatic."

It's hard to say now whether the Clippers made the right choice between Casey and Del Negro.

But when a guy keeps coming out of nowhere to land coveted jobs, you have to at least give him credit for knowing how to defy the odds.

That's something the Clippers have been trying to do for years.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

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