In what has the potential to be the most exciting offseason in the Atlanta Hawks franchise history, the new head coach for the Los Angeles Clippers could determine whether prized free agent Chris Paul decides to leave Hollywood.
Recently, the Clippers fired their former head coach Vinny Del Negro in what has been interpreted as an attempt to keep Paul from leaving via free agency. Clippers owner Donald Sterling made comments on the firing of Del Negro without directly placing the blame on Paul.
“I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true,” Sterling told T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times. “So I’d rather not say anything.”
“But you know, the coach did a really good job. I think he did and I liked working with him. There are just factors that make life very complicated and very challenging.”
Del Negro shared similar thoughts in that Paul had an impact on his firing.
“Well, Chris is a free agent,” Del Negro told the Dan Patrick Show. “They were compelled to make a decision. He’s entitled to his opinion. He’s a free agent and he’s going to have a lot of say on a lot of things as he did in the previous summer when we put the team together.”
During his three-year tenure with the Clippers, Del Negro owned a 128-102 record and a franchise best .557 winning percentage, but Paul was credited as the reason for the team’s success. The Clippers finished 32-50, Del Negro’s first season, but went 96-52 once they acquired Paul.
Despite not currently having a head coach, the Clippers do have an advantage over other teams in that they can pay Paul the maximum of a five-year, $108 million contract.
However, the Clippers are going to have to sell Paul that they can build a team around him that can win a championship, and it starts with the head coach. So far Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Byron Scott and Jeff Van Gundy have been mentioned as possible replacements for Del Negro.
There is also the question of whether Paul believes the current roster including Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can develop their talent into more than just “Lob City”.
Two teams rumored to be in the CP3 sweepstakes include the Hawks and the Dallas Mavericks, both of which have a head coach and an All-Star big man. The Hawks just signed Mike Budenholzer and have Al Horford, while the Mavericks have Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki, who just won a championship two years ago.
The Hawks could have more appeal though, because they have an excess of $40 million in cap room to spend and can afford to bring in another superstar like Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Kevin Martin, David West or Paul Pierce, who could use his player option to opt out of his contract with the Boston Celtics.