Vinny Del Negro piles on Clippers, Doc Rivers for lack of success


Just three years ago the Los Angeles Clippers were the team many would pronounce as “a head coach away” from being championship contenders, joining the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. This criticism, of course, came with Vinny Del Negro in the coaches chair. Let the public tell it, Del Negro had done what he could with this Bulls team, the same criticism Del Negro met when head coach of the Chicago Bulls — post-VDN, with Tom Thibodeau at the helm of the franchise, the Bulls emerged as a contender in the Eastern Conference.

Following the Clippers’ loss to Memphis in the 2012 playoffs, the franchise decided to move on, bringing in Doc Rivers via trade to be the franchise’s supposed savior, having already proven with the Boston Celtics in 2008 he knows what it takes to lead a cast of “underachievers” in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen to the promised land.

Fast forward two seasons since Del Negro’s firing and well, on paper things are just the same — in both seasons under Doc Rivers, the Clippers have failed to venture into the conference and/or NBA finals, falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western semi’s in six during the 2013 playoffs and the Houston Rockets in the Western semi’s in seven during the 2014 playoffs.

So what did Del Negro have to say about such when appearing on Sirius XM’s “Off the Dribble” podcast?

“At the end of the day, they haven’t done any better, they haven’t won any more games, they haven’t gotten out of the second round, so it’s hard to blame me right now,” Del Negro said.

Adding depth to the situation in hopes of properly giving context to Del Negro’s words, Vinny spoke on the situation when prompted by the host’s discussion of Rivers’ commentary about the Golden State Warriors and the luck needed to exit the Western Conference and appear in the NBA Finals.

“You need luck in the West,” said Rivers. “Look at Golden State. They didn’t have to play us or the Spurs. But that’s also a lesson for us: when you have a chance to close, you have to do it.” Rivers later clarified his statement with another, to deter the idea he believes the Warriors were wholly luck, as many believe the franchise were after avoiding the “top teams” and “facing off against teams hit with injury”. “No, I don’t think the Warriors were lucky to win. I think they deserved to win,” said Doc during the team’s visit to China. “I wish we could have played them – or the Spurs – but they still were the best team.”

“They earned it.”

And instead of framing the discussion as such that’d perfectly reflect Rivers’ original commentary — I believe the later comments came after the posting of said podcast — the host leaned into the juicier “Rivers called the Warriors lucky because they didn’t play us or the Spurs”, to, I assume, get a better reaction from the former Clippers coach, to which Del Negro would respond “it’s called diversion.”

“Let’s not look at the real problems, let’s have you look at these shiny objects over here. Let’s look at these shiny objects over here so we don’t have to look at the real issues, or why we lost or whatever.

Del Negro would continue.

“So, look in the mirror and get it done. They have enough talent, they’ve got two of the top-10 players, they have the wealthiest owner, the salary cap is irrelevant – you can pay the tax – everything is in your favor. Get it done. The DeAndre Jordan thing is over, you got him back; that could’ve slipped through your hands but it didn’t. But guys got to step up.”

The premise of Del Negro’s thoughts are 100 percent correct: when it comes down to it, the Clippers weren’t able to meet up with the Warriors in the Western Conference finals because of their own doing, that doing being coughing up a 3-1 lead over what looked to be a Houston Rockets team who wanted no more to do with the series.

Where Del Negro’s commentary begins to fall flat is when he ushers in commentary to take blame away from HIS wrongdoings as head coach of the Clippers from 2010 to 2013. What Rivers did that Del Negro failed to do, and in doing so limiting the ceiling of the franchise? Maximizing the talents of the starting lineup and mainly develop DeAndre Jordan; from a player who was excused as a “big who couldn’t play in the fourth quarter” under Del Negro, Rivers has done enough to prove that idea to be a fable, helping transform the 2008 second-round pick into one of the league’s best defensive players — Jordan finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season and was voted to All-Defensive 1st team — and a max contract player. And while Del Negro failed to maximize Jordan’s talents, he made Chris Paul and Blake Griffin less effective in the half court by failing to install a more-than-capable offense, or at least one that isn’t one action + pick-and-roll followed by isolation ball, which hurt the Clippers greatly in the playoffs.

The irony of it all? What the Del Negro Clippers needed the most, the Rivers Clippers could provide, and vice versa, what that need being balance — the Clippers starters were decent under Del Negro but were equipped with a the perfect bench to match the starts, while the Clippers starters are great with Rivers while the bench continues to fail miserably due to a lack of talent and fit.

At this point, there’s really little to be said about the Clippers. The talent is there. They’ve the coach they believed capable of putting them “over the top”. The bench is supposedly improved (let’s hold out on this one despite all the familiar faces and names). If they’re unable to take a step forward this season, Del Negro won’t be the only going out of his way to point fingers toward the core of this group.

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