DEL NEGRO & SACKS LOOK TOWARDS FUTURE

Vinny del Negro

PLAYA VISTA – Clippers Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks and Head Coach Vinny Del Negro met with the media Monday morning at the team’s training center as sort of a postmortem to the 2012-13 season.

It was one that included a franchise-record 56 victories, 17-game winning streak and first-ever Pacific Division title, but also an unexpected first-round exit from the playoffs.

Sacks characterized the upcoming offseason as “huge.”

The team has six unrestricted free agents, a class headlined by superstar Chris Paul that also includes Chauncey Billups, who started all six of the team’s postseason games, and key reserve Matt Barnes. Add Del Negro, who was in the final year of his three-year contract this season, to the list and the Clippers have a number of franchise-shaping decisions to make over the next few months.

“It’s tough,” Sacks said when asked about having Paul and Del Negro both entering free agency at the same time. “But I think the number one priority for us right now has to be re-signing our star player, Chris Paul. I mean, that’s our goal and that’s what we want to do and we’re going to put ourselves in a position to do that.

“I think he’s an integral part of this. We feel like we had a great partnership for the last couple of years and we want to continue it, obviously. These are decisions that have to be made and some of them will be taken care of at the appropriate time.”

In two years with Paul, the team has gone 96-52 (.648) in the regular season and become something of a destination franchise. They won a first-round playoff series over the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012, signed numerous marquee free agents, played 23 nationally televised games in 2013 and achieved unprecedented franchise success.

“The team did a lot of good things this year,” Sacks said. “In the regular season, we obviously did some things the franchise has never done but when you don’t accomplish your goals and you don’t get as far as you’d like you have to evaluate everything.”

The front office and coaching staff cannot talk to free agents until July 1, which means official decisions on Paul, Barnes, Billups, Lamar Odom, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf will be put on hold. Del Negro’s status will likely be cleared up sooner.

“It was only 48 hours ago that we were flying home from Memphis,” Sacks said. “There’s no actual set schedule, but we’d like to do things as quickly as possible just to make sure we can move forward.”

The Clippers, one five teams in the Western Conference with 56 wins or more, were eliminated from the postseason in six games by the Grizzlies on May 3, just 11 days after taking a 2-0 lead in the series.

Del Negro said his feelings wavered from anger, disappointment and frustration in the days since being knocked out, but tried to put things in perspective Monday.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done here,” Del Negro said. “Obviously, no one’s happy about not getting by the first round and not having a longer playoff run. But sometimes those things happen. This isn’t easy stuff.

“You have to go through some growing pains, you have to have stability and continuity, and obviously you have to make changes. That’s just part of the business. The front office people, they’ll evaluate and we’ll get together and see where everything stands in terms of the comfort level that they have, the comfort level I have and make sure we’re all pulling in the same direction to improve.”

Under Del Negro the Clippers have improved each season. They went from 32 wins in 2010-11 to 40 in a lockout-shortened 2011-12 to a franchise-record 56 wins this season. He needed just 146 games as Clippers coach to reach his 100th victory with the club, becoming the fastest to 100 wins in franchise history. He entered the season in the final year of a three-year contract he signed in the summer of 2010.

“I’ll meet with Mr. Sterling (Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling) and then we’ll talk things through, see where they’re at and see where I’m at and move forward there,” Del Negro said. “I’m very proud of my staff and how hard they’ve worked. And I know the organization is in a much better place today and I that makes me feel proud.”

As Sacks indicated, the timeline and process for making a decision will become clearer in the coming days and weeks.

“We are literally just going through exit interviews right now with our coaches,” Sacks said. “We’ve still got a couple of players to do. We’re in the evaluation process. I’m sure we’ll sit down and talk and Vinny and I will go over some things in terms of the future and discuss it with our owner and see where we at. But it’s kind of early right now.”

Part of that process will include gathering feedback from players and staff members. Paul and All-Star Blake Griffin will be among those who will be listened to, according to Sacks.

“We do the exit interviews for a reason,” Sacks said. “We want to hear feedback from our players, but whatever we do we’re going to do as an organization. Of course, you’re going to listen to your star players and you’re going to listen to all of your employees and all of your players when you make these kinds of decisions. I don’t think that’s unusual for a team to do that.

“I think we have a good situation here and we have a team where our core guys are young and have the ability to get better and improve.”