SUCCESS AND CONTINUITY KEY IN RETAINING DEL NEGRO
Eric Patten | 5/30/12

The Clippers exercised their team option on head coach Vinny Del Negro's contract Tuesday just more than a week after completing the most successful season in franchise history.

They finished 40-26 under Del Negro, compiling a franchise-best .606 winning percentage and advancing to the second-round of the playoffs for the second time since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.

A 45-minute media conference call with Del Negro and Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey took place shortly after the announcement.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to continue the plan that we set in place," said Del Negro, who called in from Phoenix where he has an offseason home. "I think it's very important for the organization to have continuity and stability moving forward. Obviously, there was a lot done with the team last year and a lot has to be done this year."

According to Olshey, the team's success was an obvious factor in retaining Del Negro.

"We had a very successful season," Olshey said. "We talked about it earlier in the year, Vinny's job got easier and harder at the same time, the day we made the Chris Paul trade and constructed the roster. I think you saw evidence of that throughout the year, there were ebbs and flows. But at the end of the day, we think we have the most talented roster in franchise history and Vinny turned that into the best record in franchise history."

Del Negro has amassed a 154-158 career-coaching record between two seasons in Los Angeles and two in Chicago. However, he's made the playoffs three times, including a thrilling series win over the Grizzlies this year.

On Tuesday, Olshey talked about how the team's preparedness leading up to their Game 7 victory exemplified Del Negro's leadership qualities.

"All of these guys were warriors going to war with Vinny and that's what leaders do," the V.P. of Basketball Operations said. "You lead them into battle and they're willing to fight for you and that's what those guys did and that's how you beat a team like Memphis on the road in a Game 7 in a very physical series. The decision to bring Vinny back wasn't hinging on one game, but it clearly was indicative of the type of leader he is in terms of getting the most out of his players in a high-level environment winning a Game 7 on the road."

Del Negro thanked Olshey for the kind words, but, as he so often does, the fifth-year coach heaped more of the praise on his players.

"A lot of this goes to the players," Del Negro said. "Chris Paul's a bulldog. Blake [Griffin], DeAndre [Jordan], Caron [Butler] playing with a broken hand. Eric Bledsoe was injured for the first half of the season and he came on and did a great job for us in the playoffs. And Mo Williams and Randy [Foye], all the guys, and Reggie [Evans] and Kenyon [Martin] stepped up big for us in the playoffs. You know, I give the players a lot of credit for playing hard and believing in what we were trying to do. I appreciate their effort and I appreciate my staff's effort."

Del Negro and his staff have a reputation for their teams improving as each season progresses.

In 2008-09 the Bulls closed with nine wins in their final 12 games and took the Celtics to a Game 7 as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. The following year had a similar finale as Chicago managed a 10-4 record down the stretch and made the postseason again. After a 5-21 start to his first season in Los Angeles, Del Negro led the Clippers to a 27-29 record over the final three months.

And this season, despite facing a massive roster turnover following the trade to acquire Paul, a season-ending Achilles tendon injury to Chauncey Billups, and a stretch of 20 games in 31 days in March, the Clippers won 14 of their last regular season 19 games and secured the highest playoff seed (No. 5) in team history.

Del Negro's track record wasn't lost on Olshey when he hired Del Negro in 2010 and it was apparent again as the Clippers' players came within a possession of extending their second round series with the Spurs to a Game 5.

"There's no greater compliment for a coach than to see how hard his players are playing at the end of the year and that wasn't always the case in this organization," Olshey said. "You know, even though we lost Games 3 and 4 here at home against San Antonio, those players still competed right down to the final whistle in both those games no matter what they were up against. It's a testament to Vinny as a communicator and a motivator and a guy who had his team mentally and emotionally on the right course."

Olshey added that he works collaboratively and "all the appropriate parties" supported and embraced the decision to bring Del Negro back for another year.

Securing Del Negro for 2012-13 is merely the first in a series of offseason moves for the Clippers. Looking forward, the team still has a number of decisions to make. They have eight potential free agents, including Mo Williams, who has a player option.

Yet unlike last season when the uncertainty of the lockout clouded the process, Del Negro said having time to evaluate and improve in all areas will be incredibly valuable.

"There are things that we're going to need to do on a daily basis to continually move the needle in the right direction," Del Negro said. "The time is having summer league and getting our younger players an opportunity to play and having a mini-camp and seeing some more draft workouts and just having things like more time with free agency.

"The time is probably the most valuable in terms of not having to rush everything like last year although it worked out incredibly well, what we were able to accomplish."

Olshey, who has said on several occasions that he is in constant communication with Del Negro on ways to enhance the team, echoed the coach's sentiments.

"I think that with a training camp, with an offseason, with an entire summer for his staff to get in the gym and work with our younger players, and a couple of roster additions we're going to take another step forward in our quest to win a championship.

"We're not going to judge ourselves by Clipper history. We're going to judge ourselves by NBA history."

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