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Clippers bullish on new coach

Team reaches deal with Del Negro, who edges out Casey after two sets of interviews with higher-ups.

July 07, 2010|Lisa Dillman

Vinny Del Negro was already getting to work, and not just on big-picture philosophical stuff but listing his order of the finer points to be accomplished in the office Wednesday.

The newest coach of the Clippers spoke about filling out his staff, summer league in Las Vegas next week, and, of course, free agency, giving new meaning to that old phrase of hitting the ground running.

Never mind that his contract has yet to be finalized. That will be hammered out between his agent Lon Rosen and Clippers front-office executives Wednesday.

An agreement in principle to coach the Clippers, which was confirmed by Rosen, was reached Tuesday. It came after a long day of meetings in a second series of interviews with the finalists, Del Negro, the former coach of the Chicago Bulls, and Dwane Casey, assistant coach of Dallas.

The Clippers may introduce Del Negro in a news conference Wednesday but that plan is not set.

The next day happens to be the day of the LeBron James decision, and the Clippers were one of six teams invited to make presentations to the free-agent superstar last week in Cleveland.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself," Del Negro said in a telephone interview. "I just feel [General Manager] Neil Olshey and Andy [Roeser, the team president] did a great job working me through the process, and Mr. Sterling was very supportive.

"I just came in and told them the things I believe in, the way I feel the team needs to play. You have to be true to your beliefs and core values."

Clippers owner Donald Sterling had been greatly impressed by Del Negro after the first round of interviews. One source familiar with the interviewing process said over the weekend it went from about 70%-30% in Casey's advantage to 50%-50% after the first presentations.

Those who had dealt with Del Negro extensively in Chicago had predicted just that would unfold, that he would close the gap after meeting with the Clippers hierarchy in person.

Casey and Del Negro returned for the second round of interviews Tuesday with Casey going first. Del Negro met with Clippers officials later in the day and had dinner with Sterling.

The race between Del Negro and Casey was close to a repeat of their battle for the Bulls job in 2008.

Del Negro won that contest, and coached the Bulls the next two seasons, leading them to the playoffs in both. His regular-season record in each of the two seasons was 41-41.

He was fired in May after a turbulent final stretch. He was at odds with team Vice President John Paxson, and their difficulties were highlighted by an altercation after a game in late March.

What did he take away from his tenure in Chicago? "When you go through any of those experiences, so many things are thrown at you," he said. "Chicago was great ... all of those things you take and you try to be better at your profession, and are just looking forward to getting started."

He inherits a promising Clippers team with what he called a "nice young nucleus," but is coming off a 29-win season, a 10-win improvement over the previous season.

Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy stepped aside in February to concentrate on his front office job and his duties were assumed by Kim Hughes. Then Dunleavy was dismissed as general manager near the end of the season and is headed to arbitration with the team over money owed him.

Del Negro, who is owed about $2.2 million by the Bulls on the last year of his contract, could have sat out this coming season. But he liked what he saw in the opportunity the Clippers presented.

"We're going to get after it defensively," he said. " ... Have to do a better job defensively and at the offensive end. All those things will be worked out with the rest of the roster" taking shape.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

INFOBOX TEXT STARTS HERE

Average guy

Vinny Del Negro coached Chicago to the first round of the playoffs in each of his seasons:

*--* YEAR W L PCT 2008-09 41 41 500 2009-10 41 41 500 *--*

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