The Los Angeles Clippers have emerged from obscurity and become one of the most promising young teams in the NBA. At the heart of this significant progression are stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who have come into their own as one of the most dynamic duos the league has to offer.
Unfortunately, the man roaming the sidelines hasn't progressed quite as well as his young players. Head coach Vinny Del Negro remains a question mark, thus resulting in many fans calling for his job.
The question is: Who would replace him? If the Clippers front office were taking applications, the first name they should hope to see is the recently unemployed Stan Van Gundy.
Before we look to the future, it's important to acknowledge how we got here. For help in that department, a history lesson is in store.
At one point during the 2011-12 NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Clippers had lost 11 of 18 games. This sparked the report that head coach Vinny Del Negro had "lost the team." According to Chris Broussard of ESPN.com, it also led to the Clippers "not wanting to play hard for him."
The Clippers responded to the criticism by finishing the season on a 14-5 run, thus bringing their record to an impressive 40-26. All appeared to be well.
Some began to acknowledge the Clippers as a team who had fixed their issues. A first-round series victory against the Memphis Grizzlies only further boosted confidence, as the team made their way out of the first round of the postseason despite being the heavy underdog.
Unfortunately, their season came to an abrupt end when the San Antonio Spurs flat out dominated the Clippers for a four-game sweep. Aside from a reasonably competitive Game 4, the Spurs had clinched victory well before the final minutes unfolded in every game.
And the questions surrounding Vinny Del Negro's ability to lead the Los Angeles Clippers returned.
The reason for such shortcomings rests on Del Negro's inconsistency with his rotation of minutes. Young players like DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe contributed well, but they never found consistent opportunity. Veterans such as Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans, meanwhile, were never guaranteed the playing time they deserved.
This stunted the development of two players who are of the utmost importance to the Clippers' future as a franchise. It's also led to the team's current predicament—they find themselves surrounded with doubt about their interior defense.
This is something that a certain Mr. Van Gundy could cure in an instant.
When Dwight Howard entered the league in 2004, the big man was a fundamentally flawed freak athlete. Two years after Stan Van Gundy came to Orlando, however, D-12 emerged as the most dominant defensive force in the NBA and began his string of three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Although there is no logical way to guarantee duplicate success, Van Gundy would be in position to work his magic once again in Los Angeles.
Although DeAndre Jordan is not quite of the Dwight Howard caliber, Van Gundy has proven capable of taking an athletic big man and maximizing his ability. Should he find himself in Los Angeles with the opportunity to mold Jordan into the player he should be, the Clippers would be able to make strides toward conquering the Western Conference.
That is not all Van Gundy could improve upon, however, as he continues to prove superior to Vinny Del Negro. An underrated aspect of Stan Van's coaching style is the loyalty he has displayed to his players.
Despite what we may have seen with the Dwight Howard trade saga, Van Gundy has always stood by his men. Although his belief in players like the aging Jason Richardson may have been misguided, he has provided players with the opportunity they may not receive elsewhere.
2012 Most Improved Player of the Year award winner Ryan Anderson is walking proof of that.
This is exactly what a team with young pieces needs. Regardless of how ready Chris Paul and the veterans on the roster may be for a title run, the not-so-experienced members of the rotation must establish their role early in the season.
From that point on, they must maintain their position for the duration of the year. That's something Vinny Del Negro has yet to discover.
With all of this being noted, we still haven't touched on what truly separates Van Gundy from Del Negro. Although Del Negro has found early success, a franchise hoping for instant glory does not have a pure winner on the sideline.
By hiring Stan Van Gundy, however, that could change.
Van Gundy has made three Conference Final appearances and a visit to the 2009 NBA Finals in eight years of being a head coach. That's a 50 percent rate of making the Conference Finals for those keeping track, which is as impressive a statistic as a championship-less head coach could post.
With the exception of the 2006 NBA season, in which he resigned after starting 21-11, he's also made the postseason in every year that he has coached.
A winner's mentality is something that the Los Angeles Clippers could certainly utilize. A leader with a proven track record is what the Clippers need.
At this point, we've begun to transcend opinion. Vinny Del Negro is not the man for the job. Stan Van Gundy, however, could lead the Los Angeles Clippers to new heights.
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