Del Negro gets reins of Clippers
"A lot of things really intrigue me about this job," Del Negro said. "We have a young nucleus that needs to learn the game the right way."
Del Negro comes to the job in Los Angeles following consecutive 41-41 seasons as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, including two playoff appearances.
"He had two totally different roster compositions in his two years," Clippers general manager Neil Olshey said. "One was an offensive-oriented team. They made the playoffs. One was a defensive-oriented team. They made the playoffs."
Del Negro's 2008-09 squad finished 18th in offensive and defensive efficiency, then pushed the defending champion Boston Celtics to seven games in a classic first-round series.
Without leading scorer Ben Gordon, who left the Bulls to sign with the Detroit Pistons during the 2009 offseason, Del Negro's 2009-10 team fell to 28th in offensive efficiency, but improved to 10th in defensive efficiency.
The Bulls dismissed Del Negro on May 3 after the team's first-round playoff loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Clippers finished the 2009-10 season 29-53 under former head coach Mike Dunleavy and interim replacement Kim Hughes. The team currently has five players under contract, along with first-round draft picks forward Al-Farouq Aminu and guard Eric Bledsoe. Among the Clippers' rostered players, only veteran guard Baron Davis and center Chris Kaman are over the age of 21.
"It's not going to happen overnight," Del Negro said. "We're going to have our peaks and valleys, but we want to be consistent, grow in the right direction."
During the interview process, Clippers management cited the maturation of the Bulls' young players as a central element in Del Negro's appeal. Point guard Derrick Rose, center Joakim Noah and forward Taj Gibson performed well under Del Negro's leadership in Chicago.
"We wanted someone who had a history of developing and being willing to play young players, which when you look at [the Bulls'] starting lineup, they certainly did [in Chicago]." Olshey said.
In addition to player development, a primary challenge for the Clippers' new head coach will be cultivating a relationship with Davis, the Clippers' dynamic, strong-willed point guard. Del Negro connected with Davis earlier in the day by phone.
"I told [Davis] we're going to run things the right way here and he needs to jump on board," Del Negro said. "He's willing to do that. He's a high-quality player that is a difference-maker in the game."
Davis, who is overseas, said in a statement, "Coach Del Negro gets his teams to play hard and play together, and that's what we need. He is a former player who is not too far removed from the game, and I'm looking forward to doing whatever it takes to listen and learn from him to help this team win!"
Blake Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft who missed the season because of a knee injury, was on hand at Staples Center to greet his new coach.
"He seems like a great coach. Obviously, he's done a good job with Chicago," Griffin said. "I like how he talked about developing the young players, and making sure that they are aggressive and they're playing and not worried about making mistakes.
"I haven't done a lot of snooping yet, but I'll get to it."
Del Negro acknowledged the challenges that accompanied his tenure in Chicago. He came to the position without coaching experience and encountered friction with the Bulls' front office this past season.
Del Negro and team president John Paxson had a postgame physical altercation on March 30 involving Noah's playing time.
Paxson later said he was wrong in how he handled the situation and that he was embarrassed about having put the Bulls in a bad position.
"John came out publicly and apologized, so that kind of answers all that," Del Negro said. "I'm very proud of the job that my staff and myself did in Chicago for two years."
Olshey downplayed the incident.
"We didn't think it was an issue," he said. "You put a bunch of competitors in a room, that's what's going to happen. At the end of the day, the result was they won. It certainly didn't affect the product on the court."
Building a coaching staff in Los Angeles is among Del Negro's first tasks. He met with some members of the Clippers' existing corps of assistants on Wednesday and will visit with several candidates in Las Vegas, where the Clippers play their first summer league game on Monday.
With a head coach in place, Olshey and team president Andy Roeser will now move on to the business of filling out the Clippers' roster. The team was one of six to pitch free agent LeBron James, but isn't expected to land James. The organization will likely add complementary players and build around its young core of talent, something Del Negro reiterated at the podium as a central priority.
"I think young players need two things: confidence and opportunity," Del Negro said.
Before joining the Bulls, Del Negro served as assistant GM of the Phoenix Suns in 2007-08 after being promoted from his job as director of player personnel, which he held for one season. He moved to the front office after working three seasons as a color analyst for the Suns.
Del Negro played 12 seasons in the NBA, including stints with San Antonio, Milwaukee, Golden State and Phoenix, before retiring in 2002. His contract was briefly acquired by the Clippers in 2001 as part of a three-team trade, but he never played for them before retiring.Kevin Arnovitz is an NBA contributor to ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.