CLIPPERS REMAIN FOCUSED ON LARGER GOAL, DESPITE DECEMBER AWARDS
Vinny Del Negro stood in front of reporters in the cold, expansive walkway outside of the Clippers’ locker room at Oracle Arena in Oakland, surrounded by likely more reporters than any previous Warriors-Clippers matchup some 30-plus games into a season.
He was asked about the game, which featured two of the West’s five best, the “Warriors Whiteout,” and the end of his team’s franchise-record 17-game winning streak. The season, just two months old, still has a plenty of time left, Del Negro reminded everyone.
Prior to one question, Del Negro was congratulated for being honored as Western Conference Coach of the Month for December. Much like he always does when the topic turns to himself, Del Negro shifted attention to the Clippers’ players and to the team’s overarching ambitions, a deflection none different than something Chris Paul might do to a lazy post-entry pass.
“It’s all about the players,” Del Negro said. “The players win games. The coaches lose them. That’s just what I believe in.”
Del Negro, who played 13 professional seasons, has been known as a so-called “player’s coach” during his five-year coaching tenure. It is, then, with little surprise or coincidence that when presented his first-ever monthly award as a head coach, he will do it in concert with Paul, his superstar point guard.
A few hours after the NBA announced the coach of the month winners, Paul was named Western Conference Player of the Month. The Clippers have never had a coach and player win the award in the same calendar month.
But this Clippers team, according to small forward Caron Butler, has something “magical” about them. Two consecutive losses to start 2013 aside, they are enjoying the equivalent of a boon year, and Paul and Del Negro are heading it.
The coach on the sideline and coach on the floor, helped the Clippers rack up the third 16-0 month in NBA history. Since the league’s inception as the Basketball Association of America in 1946, just the ’71-72 Lakers, ’95-96 Spurs and now ’12-13 Clippers have completed a perfect slate of games in a 16-game month without a loss.
Paul and Del Negro, along with everyone else, are seemingly instep with the idea the Clippers are far from a finished product. Paul, who averaged 16.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, a conference-high 9.3 assists and league-high 2.63 steals in December, was asked on New Year’s Day if he could reflect on what the team has “accomplished” so far. He retorted, “What have we accomplished?”
It was a rhetorical question. Paul, much like his coach, deflects personal accolades, too. His seventh Player of the Month award, and second as a member of the Clippers, matter little to him without the victories, and necessary playoff success, that go along with it. That may also be why Del Negro on Wednesday reminded everyone that his award is largely a reflection of the team, and where it may be headed.
“It’s great recognition for the organization, but it really goes back to the players,” Del Negro said. “Blake [Griffin’s] unselfishness, and Chris making plays, and everyone buying in and sacrificing what they have to for the betterment of the team. That’s why we had an outstanding the December.
“It means maybe we’re doing some of the right things we need to. But it’s still very early and we’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to get better at.”