Coach Vinny Del Negro guided the Clippers to the No. 5 seeding in the Western… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
The Clippers on Tuesday said Vinny Del Negro would return as coach next season after leading them to the highest winning percentage in the franchise's history in the regular season and taking them into the second round of the playoffs.
Eight days after the Clippers had exit interviews with their players, the team said they had exercised the option on Del Negro's contract for the 2012-13 season.
Neil Olshey, Clippers vice president of basketball operations, said there "was never an issue" on whether Del Negro would be retained. Olshey said owner Donald Sterling and President Andy Roeser "were all in unison" on bringing Del Negro back for a third season as coach.
"Mr. Sterling, Andy and I kind of knew this was a fait accompli right after the season," Olshey said during a conference call. "It was just a matter of us having other housecleaning things to deal with. We dealt with those, and now we're ready to move on to our off-season and the first order of business was to exercise Vinny's option."
Del Negro said he never worried about a time frame on when he would hear whether his contract was picked up by the Clippers.
"I had a great conversation with Mr. Sterling last week," Del Negro said from Phoenix, where he lives in the off-season. "Really, there was no real urgency on anybody's part because I think everybody felt good about the direction we were heading. ... To be honest with you, I wasn't concerned too much."
The Clippers and Del Negro didn't talk about a contract beyond next season. "That was not on the radar right now," Del Negro said.
Olshey was asked on the conference call about his own future after several reports listed him as one of three finalists to become general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers. His name was mentioned along with former New Orleans Hornets general manager Jeff Bower and Indiana Pacers GM David Morway.
Multiple reports said Olshey flew to London recently to meet with Portland owner Paul Allen. Olshey has been working without a contract with the Clippers since August, getting paid on a month-to-month basis.
Olshey was asked several times about his reported interest in the Portland job. "I don't have any comment on my situation or anybody in the front office right now," he said.
Del Negro, 45, took the Clippers to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, where they were swept in four games by the San Antonio Spurs.
But it was just the second time in the 31 years Sterling has owned the team that the Clippers reached the second round of the playoffs.
Del Negro led the Clippers to a 40-26 record, a 60.6% winning percentage, during the shortened, 66-game lockout season. In his first season with the Clippers, 2010-11, the team went 32-50.
"Clearly, Vinny had one of the most successful seasons as a coach in Clipper history," Olshey said. "We're not going to judge ourselves by Clipper history, but we're going to judge ourselves by NBA history, and like I said, I think we're on the right path."
Del Negro came under intense scrutiny and his job security appeared tenuous after the Clippers lost three consecutive games in March. But Del Negro and the team turned things around, winning 13 of their next 15 games.
Then in the Clippers' first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers came back from a 27-point deficit to win Game 1. The Clippers won the series with a Game 7 victory in Memphis.
Del Negro, who also coached the Chicago Bulls for two seasons, said he has to keep getting "better at my craft."
"I have to get better at time management during practice and do different things to push guys' buttons a little bit," Del Negro said. "Obviously, I have to get better at in-game decisions, whether it be offensively or defensively. ... It's a nonstop process."