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HELENE ELLIOTT

All Vinny Del Negro can do is wait

Clippers have the talent, but coach doesn't have the players during the lockout.

October 15, 2011|Helene Elliott
  • When Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro was last on the job, power forward Blake Griffin was winning the rookie-of-the-year award.
When Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro was last on the job, power forward Blake… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

It figures, doesn't it?

The Clippers finally develop a superstar in power forward Blake Griffin and a dynamic shooting guard in Eric Gordon and have enough talent to generate legitimate reasons for optimism … and the NBA imposes a lockout that might wipe out the season.

If the Clippers don't manufacture their own misfortune someone will do it for them.

Every few years they seem to be on the brink of something good but get derailed by injuries, fleeing free agents or ineptitude. This season seemed different — they've never had a player debut as monstrously as Griffin did — but their attempt to reach those ever-elusive better days has been delayed while league executives and the players' union argue over luxury taxes and percentages of revenue.

Rarely has a Clippers coach had as much reason to look forward to a season as Vinny Del Negro has now. But there are no practices for him to run, no new game film to analyze. His internal clock says he should be conducting chalk talks for players. The league's lockout rules say he and other coaches can't talk to — or about — any of those players.

"You try to spend the time wisely," Del Negro said, "but we're just kind of in a holding pattern now."

If not for the labor dispute the Clippers would have been preparing to face Utah on Monday at Staples Center in their fourth exhibition game. Del Negro might have found a solution to his small-forward problems by now. He could have gotten a read on the team's draft picks, power forward Trey Thompkins and shooting guard Travis Leslie, who worked out a few times before the lockout started July 1.

By now Del Negro surely would have seen glimpses of how Griffin planned to follow up his sensational rookie-of-the-year performance. What kind of season could this have been for Griffin, whose playmaking abilities rivaled his spectacular dunks? And could Del Negro, presented a good measure of talent to work with, have transformed several very good pieces into a cohesive whole?

Maybe the Clippers' eternal jinx would have overpowered their talent. But maybe Griffin, Gordon and DeAndre Jordan could have reversed the endless tide of Clipper misery. We may never know.

In the meantime Del Negro tries to stay busy. He spoke at a clinic in September that drew 45 NBA coaches and assistants to the Clippers' practice facility and had time to visit his parents, nieces and nephews in Boston. He speaks nearly every day with Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey and President Andy Roeser to talk team business. He has split his time between his homes in Phoenix and Los Angeles but planned to be here this week for the Clippers Foundation's charity golf classic Tuesday at Trump National Golf Course and to spend time with sponsors.

While in town he will continue to meet with his assistants and formulate strategies for a season that might never be.

"There's a plan in place but that plan can change just because we're not sure and a lot of teams aren't sure exactly what your team's going to look like," Del Negro said, choosing his words carefully to avoid violating league rules that prohibit team officials from commenting on the labor dispute.

"Things would get altered just depending on my comfort level in terms of how the practice went, what we got in, what we needed to work on more or less. There's a process that we go through. How the process goes changes depending on what we get accomplished in that specific day."

He was most eager to see continued development of the young players and overall consistency, which he said was the foundation for the team's best stretches last season after a terrible 1-13 and 5-21 start.

"We improved tremendously in areas, but there's areas that we have to clean up. We know that," he said. "So the consistency factor, whatever statistics are positive or negative, we're always trying to find ways to incorporate guys to use their strength and continually work on their weaknesses."

He said he's trying to come up with "some new ideas, some fresh ideas," but that's difficult without players to implement them.

"It gets to a point where a lot of things that you do, you have to go out on the court and see how they come together and see what the comfort factor is for some players," he said. "Just because something looks good on paper or makes a lot of sense, sometimes that isn't the most efficient thing once you get on the court."

No one knows when the Clippers will be on the court again. It's just a shame they're getting tripped up by the fates when they seem to have a good thing building.

"Worrying about it, harping on it, really does nothing," Del Negro said. "All you can do is make sure everything is prepared and organized and be ready to go when you're told."

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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