Despite finishing with a franchise best winning percentage of .606, the Los Angeles Clippers ended the season on a sour note, getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.
With Blake Griffin and Chris Paul heading into the final year of their contracts, this season will be pivotal for the Clippers in keeping their solid foundation.
On May 29th, the Clippers picked up head coach Vinny Del Negro's option, bringing the young coach back for his third season in Lob City.
Even with the popular dissatisfaction with Del Negro, the Clippers' brass pulled another Clipper-esque move in foolishly bringing back Del Negro in the most critical year of the franchise's existence.
Here are 12 reasons why the Clippers must dismiss Coach Del Negro.
With the league's best PG in Chris Paul, an incredible forward in Blake Griffin, a young nucleus, sharp shooters and strong veteran leadership, the Clippers should have been significantly better last season than their play indicated.
Simply, Vinny Del Negro did not maximize the strengths of his players.
With Paul as the quarterback, Griffin should always be finding looks in the paint and never have to settle for a contested 18-foot jump shot.
Ultimately, this is a critique of Del Negro's coaching scheme as he could never quite figure it out.
In Portland, McMillan inspired the Blazers to overachieve by preaching team basketball and suffocating defense.
If Jerry Sloan were to take over the reins in Lob City, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul could become a more dynamic reincarnation of Karl Malone and John Stockton.
If the Clippers are serious about winning a championship and retaining Paul and Griffin, then they need a coach that will take them to the next level.
Unfortunately, Vinny Del Negro is not that person.
Del Negro was out-coached too many times last season.
The most fatal of times came against the Spurs in the playoffs when Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich coached rings around the simple Del Negro. If Popovich is to maestro then what is Del Negro?
At a bare minimum, a good coach should be able to pick up on the cadences of the game and make the necessary adjustments.
The Clippers almost seemed dumbfounded last season when their basic offense was figured out.
Innumerable times the Clippers would turn the ball over or end up with an isolation on a play called out of a timeout.
Take Game 3 of their series against the Spurs. The Clippers raced out to a 40-16 lead early in the second quarter before succumbing to a relentless Spurs attack and falling 96-86.
The Spurs cut the lead to ten by halftime and used an incredible 24-0 run to take control in the third quarter.
Here, coaching has to be called into question.
Where was Del Negro?
Every NBA team should have at least one go-to play to get an easy bucket. Clearly, the Clippers had none.
Timeouts resulted in more bricks, as fans at Staples Center watched their team implode.
Alternatively, where was the defense? The Clippers could not come up with a single adjustment to stymie a 24-0 run?
Credit the Spurs' hyper-efficient offense and veteran savvy, but there is no excuse for the Clippers falling apart like that.
With such a loaded roster, the Clippers should have been able to find some semblance of an identity by the season's end.
Heading into this offseason they are still searching for it.
The dynamic roster has the capabilities to give the Clippers options. They have the quickness in Paul, Griffin, Jordan and Bledsoe to be a run-and-gun team.
They have the shooters in Nick Young, Randy Foye and Mo Williams to be a deadly spot-up team.
They have the toughness in Caron Butler, Paul and Kenyon Martin to be a bruising grind it out team, and still the Clippers are wondering who they really are.
A team's identity is usually reflective of its coach. With Gregg Popovich, the Spurs are an offensive machine that always makes the extra pass.
With Mike Brown, the Los Angeles Lakers are a defensive monster built around two seven footers and one of the best closers in the NBA.
With Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers are still...well, still figuring it out.
Del Negro's most consistent trait has been his unpredictability, a detrimental quality for the coach of a said to be contender.
On paper the Clippers sport one of the best rosters in the league.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are a devastating one-two punch and the Clips have the right balance of veteran leadership and young players to be an elite team.
Still, Coach Del Negro found a way to play suspect players in key moments.
Holding onto a three point lead and possession with just under 10 seconds left in a regular season game against the Spurs, Del Negro brought in Ryan Gomes to make the critical inbounds pass.
Fitting, Gomes threw an errant pass to Chris Paul that forced the All-NBA PG to turnover the ball or risk a back court violation.
A reasonable fan will ask the question: why was Gomes in the game in the first place?
But it is more than one game. Del Negro often played F Bobby Simmons, and even started him at times, despite poor offensive production and limited defensive performances.
Similar questions can be asked about the playing time for G Eric Bledsoe.
Although the Clippers had quite a logjam in the backcourt last season with Chris Paul, Randy Foye, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams and Bledsoe, the Clips' best perimeter defender should have gotten more burn during the season.
Bledsoe found his calling in the playoffs as an offensive spark that could rattle the opposing team's best perimeter player.
He ran through screens chasing Mike Conley and OJ Mayo in the first round against the Memphis Grizzlies and then Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in the second round against the Spurs.
By the end of the playoffs, Bledsoe looked winded. And while any superb athlete would have a hard time chasing around guys like that, there is no question that had Del Negro given him more minutes during the regular season, he would have paced himself better.
With teams jockeying for playoff seeding and the Clippers neck and neck with the Lakers, Lob City fell apart in March and conceded the Pacific Division crown to its Staples Center co-tenants.
By the time the Clippers lost a back-to-back-to-back set on the road to the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and lowly New Orleans Hornets, Del Negro's seat quickly went from uncomfortable to on fire.
Even some of the wins were nail biters and far too close given the competition. The Clippers had to rely on some fourth quarter heroics from Paul to defeat lottery bound teams like the Detroit Pistons and the Portland Trail Blazers.
In the aftermath, ESPN's Chris Broussard reported that Del Negro had lost confidence and credibility in the locker room.
Bill Simmons postulated that the Clippers would have fired Del Negro had they been able to find a legitimate replacement that late in the season.
Simply, an elite team does not consistently drop games to teams of such low caliber.
Every team goes through some slumps, but it is on the coaching staff to dissect the squad and make the necessary adjustments.
The Clippers did right the ship, reeling off 6 straight wins after their pathetic loss in New Orleans, and won 14 of their next 17 contests.
By then the damage had already been done.
The Clippers had little chance of stealing the No. 3 seed from the Lakers and were preparing for a first round date with the Grit N' Grind Grizzlies.
After watching the Clippers from the preseason through the playoffs, it quickly became apparent that their basic offense was unsustainable against complex defensive sets.
Del Negro is a fan of the most predictable Chris Paul-Blake Griffin side pick-and-roll in the history of professional basketball.
While the play often yielded positive results, it was nevertheless a latent indictment of Del Negro's coaching ineptitude.
Inevitably, a smart coach would pick up on this strategy and figure out how to stop it.
Whether it involves hedging the man with the ball or rotating a big man from the weak side, the pick-and-roll can be stopped.
Once a defensive minded team sniffed out the inevitable play, the Clippers' offense was halted, leaving the team with no sustainable Plan B, other than relying on Paul's brilliance.
When the Clippers brought in Del Negro two seasons ago he was the right man for the job.
The Mike Dunleavy era had ended and the Clippers were turning a new page with franchise cornerstones Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon.
They were young, sprightly and up-and-coming, and Del Negro was the perfect candidate to inspire his players to play hard and develop precociously. He had proved his worth in Chicago, leading young guns Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to two over-achieving seasons.
If the Clippers still had Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and that Minnesota No. 1 draft pick, then Del Negro would still be the right coach.
But as soon as the Clippers dealt for Chris Paul, the expectations went through the roof.
When the Chicago Bulls made the jump from up-and-coming to contender it was clear that Del Negro was not suitable to be the coach moving forward and he was promptly replaced by defensive specialist Tom Thibodeau.
Now the Clips are in a similar situation.
While Del Negro is a limited liability with only one year on his current contract, he can be replaced.
Given that this is also Paul and Griffin's last guaranteed year with Clipper Nation, the organization needs to prove it has what it takes to elevate this team to the NBA's upper echelon.
The Clippers found this one out the hard way in their second round series against the Spurs.
In the playoffs the Clippers shot a pathetic 67 percent from the free-throw line. The front line was especially atrocious with Griffin and Kenyon Martin shooting under 60 percent, and Reggie Evans and DeAndre Jordan shooting under 50 percent.
Lob City's free-throw woes were fatal once Coach Popovich exploited their manifest flaw.
Popovich instructed his players to routinely foul poor free-throw shooters off the ball and send them to the charity stripe.
At best the Clippers would get one point, with no time coming off the clock and the ball returning to a potent Spurs offense.
The Clippers had relied on Jordan and Evans to be defensive stoppers and slow down the Spurs efficient offense.
Ultimately, they proved to be liabilities when it counted most.
While Del Negro cannot be blamed for deficient shooting mechanics, he can be blamed for failing to make the necessary adjustments.
Del Negro should have pulled his poor free throw shooters out as soon as he picked up on the Spurs' tactics.
In Game 3 this especially hurt the Clippers as any chance of some Chris Paul fourth quarter magic was negated, as Evans made his way to the free throw line.
Del Negro is no Gregg Popovich, but any intuitive coach could have made an adjustment.
The Clippers fourth quarter meltdowns have been well chronicled.
Once the opposing teams figured out the Clippers' basic scheme, they were able to make the necessary adjustments and stall the Clips' offensive game.
Again, Del Negro was MIA.
Luckily for the Clips, CP3 was there to save the day, doing the heavy lifting when he should have been on the sidelines watching the bench closeout an easy victory.
Had the Clippers won a few more games during the regular season they would have won the Pacific Division and found themselves in a much more favorable playoff bracket.
Instead, ineptitude ran the course and the Clippers limped into the playoffs dropping two of their last three games.
Not only was this the coup de grace in the Clippers' pursuit of the No. 3 seed, but it also cost them homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Rather than opening the playoffs at home against a Denver Nuggets team that the Clips easily handled during the regular season, LA headed to Memphis to play the red hot Grizzlies.
Ultimately, the Clips shocked their critics eking out a first round series victory with an impressive Game 7 road win.
Still, the Clippers were worn down by the end of their grueling seven game series, with nagging injuries threatening to limit the playing time of both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
A No. 3 seed would have also let the Clippers escape the Spurs and pit them with a much more favorable matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Not to say that the Clippers could have defeated the Western Conference champions, but Lob City did win the regular season series against the Thunder 3-1 with an impressive road win and double digit victories at home.
How the Clippers would have fared against a well-rested Thunder team is anybody's guess, but it certainly would have better than a resounding sweep from the Spurs.
In the Wild Wild West coaching is crucial to a team's success.
With so much competition, it is often the brain trust on the coaching staff that can distinguish the pretenders from the contenders.
In the Western Conference semifinals, Del Negro was vastly overmatched by the 2012 Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich.
Even beyond Pop, the Thunder's Scott Brooks has been instrumental in his team's success and the Lakers' Mike Brown has had a history of winning with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Out of the four coaches left in the Western Conference semifinals, Del Negro was the only one without a Coach of the Year Award.
More importantly, all the other coaches had been deep in the playoffs before. Popovich has four championships and has been to the Western Conference Finals numerous times.
Brown helped the Cavs reach the Finals once (where they fell to Popovich's Spurs), and this year Brooks will lead the Thunder to the Finals.
For Del Negro, the second round of the playoffs was uncharted territory.
It is surprising enough that Del Negro out-coached the Grizzlies' Lionel Hollins in the first round, but the Clippers have little chance of moving up in the conference when the caliber of coaching competition is so strong out west.
It cannot be highlighted enough that the Clippers are simply not where they could be with Vinny Del Negro coaching this team.
Next year will be the most critical the franchise has ever faced as Lob City could see Paul and Griffin walk.
If the Clippers hope to escape the drama that is a season of waiting to see if the two will resign, a la Cleveland in 2010, then Del Negro better come to training camp with some more advanced schemes.
Leave it to the notorious Donald Sterling and the inept Clippers.
An absence of pro-activity let the bright GM Neil Olshey leave for Portland, as the Clippers' brass clearly had no short or long-term plan for the front office.
Next offseason, the Clippers should not have to deal with coaching issues. All of the organization's focus should be on retaining its biggest stars.
Clipper fans can only hope that the foolish move of bringing back Del Negro does not lead to Griffin and CP3 leaving Clipper Country for good.