This off-season the Los Angeles Clippers decided to retain Vinny Del Negro as head coach, picking up his contract option for the 2012-2013 season.
This will be Del Negro’s third season as the Clippers coach, posting a 72-76 record in his first two seasons overall. During last year’s shortened season, the Clippers went 40-26, finishing with a 60.6 % winning percentage, the highest in franchise history.
The Clippers were eventually swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs. It was just the second time that the Clippers franchise had reached the western conference semifinals since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. It was also one of the most competitive teams that the Clippers have ever had, led by all-stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Del Negro had the highest of expectations, after finishing just 32-50 the year before, with Baron Davis as the team’s starting point guard for most of that 2010-2011 season. (Honestly, going from Davis to Paul is like going from dating a 3 to a 10).
Last year Del Negro’s job was in jeopardy, when the Clippers lost three straight games in March, with many people speculating that he had lost control of the locker room. (Obviously Del Negro had never dated a 10 before). Although the Clippers went on to win six straight games following those three consecutive loses. Even with Del Negro getting to the western conference semifinals and finishing with the franchise’s best winning percentage, it appears again that his job will be watched under a microscope during the 2012-2013 season.
So how long will it take for Del Negro to be put on the hot seat this season?
The western conference should be tougher, especially with the Los Angeles Lakers adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard this off-season. The Oklahoma City Thunder are also still around, as the defending Western Conference champions. Not to mention the many other teams in the western conference that improved this off-season. The Clippers on paper are still behind both of those teams, even with the upgrades they made this summer. With Del Negro under contract for just this season, a return to the western conference semifinals is a must, but that might not even keep him around for another season.
On paper the Clippers should finish as a top five seed in the western conference. If they finish with anything lower or don’t make playoffs, Del Negro probably doesn’t return for another season. If at any time during the season the Clippers go on another one of those losing skids like last March, the seat will be heating up underneath of coach Del Negro, again. However, if the Clippers get home court advantage in this year’s playoffs, that may give him some brownie points. A top three seed, home court advantage, and a return to the western conference semifinals should be enough. The only way Del Negro returns after this season without question is if he can beat either the Thunder or the Lakers in a playoff series.
If the Clippers were all-in on Del Negro as their head coach they would have extended his contract to more than just one year this off-season, but they probably want to see how he does in a full 82 game season with this team. (They also could be waiting for Phil Jackson to get back into coaching, I’m only half-joking here).
It will be interesting to see how quickly Del Negro gets put on the hot seat or if his seat gets hot at all during the 2012-2013 NBA season.
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