There were high hopes for the Los Angeles Clippers this season, especially after they traded for Chris Paul at the beginning of the season. Even though they are watching the Western Conference Finals from home right now, the season has to be classified as a success. In Vinny Del Negro’s second season in Los Angeles, the Clippers finished with the highest winning percentage in franchise history and won their opening playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies. There were bumps in the road, there was a lot of controversy and it even looked at times that Del Negro’s second season in Los Angeles would be his last. Through it all the Clippers persevered, they overcame and it has already been announced that Del Negro will return next season.
Vinny Del Negro joined KTAR in Phoenix with Burns and Gambo to talk about how he views this past season in Los Angeles, whether he ever thought he was on the coaching hot seat, on the historic comeback the Clippers had in the playoffs against the Grizzlies, what he thinks of Donald Sterling as an owner and where the Clippers need to get better this offseason.
How he views this past season in Los Angeles:
“Oh yeah. Like you said it was the best in franchise history and obviously the history of the Clippers hasn’t been the most stellar so we have to keep all of that in context but I was proud of the guys. We battled through and it was a difficult season for every team with the schedule and everything else but it’s funny when you say that we lost three games in a row and it was like the end of the world, which is funny but the expectations are high. When I went there that is what I wanted. It’s easy to lose in this league and it’s hard to win. We lost three games in a row and you thought the world was coming to an end but we battled through it and all the guys, Blake (Griffin) and Chris, DeAndre (Jordan), Caron (Butler) and everybody stuck together. We weathered the storm and finished the season off pretty well.”
Whether he ever thought his job was in jeopardy in Los Angeles this season:
“I don’t really pay that much attention to that stuff. Sometimes it’s hard not to because of the media in LA and everything but to me it’s about the players and really there’s certain ways I have to do things and the things that I believe in and my teams throughout the years seem to get better. I’ve only coached for four years now but as the seasons go on my teams get better if you look and I just knew that we were going to hit maybe an easier part of the schedule where we were just going to start playing well, we were going to catch our rhythm or whatever ever it was. We played 20 games in 31 nights in March which hadn’t been done since like 1967, that many games in a month and we ended up 11-9. Lost some games that we should’ve won probably, won a couple that we didn’t play particularly well but I knew we were going to hit our stride eventually and we were just waiting to do that and it came at the right time for us.”
On the comeback in the playoffs against Memphis:
“I think we tied the record in playoff history or something like that for the largest comeback but really I was more concerned just with Chris’s health at the time and everything else but I just kept on telling them play another minute and if we’re making a lead then give me another minute, give me another minute and all of the sudden it went from 20 to 16 to 12 and then we called a timeout, actually hit a three in the left corner after we ran a good play and hit a three and cut it to like nine or something and then the energy, our defense and we ended up stealing that one which was great. We got a defensive stop at the end to seal it which was the way we want to do it.”
On Donald Sterling:
“He definitely cares, I can tell you that. He lets you do your job but he’s going to voice his opinion at times. Since I’ve been there he has been very supportive to me. Obviously we have gone out and we have spent a lot more money to recruit players, to get players to build the right team, the right foundation and the biggest thing there was when I came in was to change the culture. In order to do that you have to get the right players and you have to win. He gives us the resources where we were able to do that. Are we a finished product? Of course not. This was the first year of the project and we have a lot more work to do but he’s been very supportive, he has given us the resources which is all you can ask for and he will voice his opinion when he’s not happy with this which is his right because he’s the owner. He will also support you in terms of when things aren’t going as well and I appreciated that during the season when he came out and was very supportive of me. All those things matter. He wants to do everything right, we’re selling out our building, our ratings are off the charts, we have a lot of positive momentum and we just want to build on it and do the right things. Want to make him as proud as possible and obviously with the history they have, this is unchartered water for them a little bit and we just have to kind of weather the storm as we go through it.”
Where the team needs to get better:
“We have to build a team around the young nucleus that we have. With Blake, his extension can get done this summer, then Chris next year and you’re always going to try to add pieces. We have to get some shooting, we struggled from the free throw line, our bigs aren’t great shooters right now but I think Blake will get better at that and DeAndre I think will get better at that and we need some more shooting to space the court and put more pressure on teams to take some pressure off Blake and Chris in terms of handling the scoring load. I think Caron Butler will come in a little bit in better shape in terms of his weight so he can take some pressure off his knee. Caron battled all year coming back from knee surgery, broke his hand and still played in the playoffs. He can really score the ball and we’ve got to incorporate him a little bit more so there’s a lot of things. We will have a lot of new faces because obviously we have a lot of guys on one year deals so a lot of work to be done but we have some flexibility and some resources to do it and that’s the key.”