Posted Sep 16 2010 3:19PM - Updated Oct 1 2010 2:32PM
Vinny Del Negro was fired after leading the Bulls to the playoffs twice in his only two years on the job. If he can match those results with the Clippers, though, count on a long run in Los Angeles.
The problem is, Donald Sterling's franchise doesn't have history on its side. The Staples Center's other tenants have been lottery qualifiers 21 times in the 25-year history of the ping-pong spectacle.
The Clippers' current run of postseason whiffs is at four, something Del Negro is out to change. And he has a brief history in turning things around. Chicago missed the playoffs the year before Del Negro arrived, but he guided the Bulls into the postseason after each of the consecutive 41-41 campaigns that he was in charge. The Bulls lost in the first round both times, though, and Del Negro was fired.
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"I expected it," he said. "Changes are going to happen. You've got to move on and I look forward to the challenge with the Clippers. We have a lot of work to do, we know that, and I just want to make sure we're progressing the way we want to with the young guys."
Led by last year's No. 1 selection Blake Griffin and USA Basketball member Eric Gordon, five of the Clippers' key players are 22 or younger. First-round picks Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe should be in the rotation from the start. After missing all of last season with a knee injury, Griffin is reporting to camp later this month healthy and ready to get his career started.
The Clippers swung for the fences in free agency and missed -- LeBron James was on their list -- before connecting on a couple of potentially solid base hits with Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye. Del Negro has athleticism and explosiveness at his disposal. Molding it is the next step.
"The roster is stocked," he said. "We have to get Blake healthy, which he is, and now it's just a matter of him feeling good. His workouts have been great. We have a few free agents that we like, some Draft picks that we like, so now it's about getting the chemistry down and everyone pulling in the right direction.
"It's not about the system yet. It's a matter of putting things together the best we can."
Balancing the youth are veterans Baron Davis and Chris Kaman. Davis, especially, could use a bounce-back season after two so-so ones since returning to his hometown. Getting the Clippers' bearded playmaker in the right frame of mind is one of Del Negro's top priorities.
"He's got to run the team and orchestrate it," Del Negro said. "Baron has to buy into everything we're doing and he will. He wants to be successful and win. Now it's a matter of getting everybody on the same page as quickly as possible."
The Clippers won only 29 games last season. The eighth-place team in the Western Conference, Oklahoma City, won 50. Progressing to the point where the Clippers could challenge for a playoff spot could seem overwhelming for such an inexperienced squad.
With that in mind, Del Negro is careful not to promise an end to the playoff drought this season.
"I don't put numbers on things," he said. "We have to make progress every day and if we do that we'll have our opportunities."
Gordon isn't going out on the playoff-prediction limb either, at least not yet. He admits that the team undermined its talent by not functioning as a cohesive unit under former coach Mike Dunleavy. The Clippers were in the bottom third in the league last season in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
"We're very close," Gordon said, "but at the same time, we just need to build chemistry, because it's going to be a new team with a new coach, and we just have to get the chemistry down."
Under Contract: G Baron Davis, G Eric Gordon, F Blake Griffin, C DeAndre Jordan, C Chris Kaman, F Craig Smith (re-signed), F Rasual Butler (re-signed)
Free Agents: G Bobby Brown (restricted), G Mardy Collins (restricted), F Steve Novak, C Brian Skinner
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