It's a crazy thought, but Los Angeles Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro seems to be doing something effective with the team that he has been criticized about over the past two seasons. He is finally getting whatever monkey was on his back to jump off, and people have even stopped calling for him to be fired.
I wouldn't advocate for him to be included in the list of the league's most elite coaches, or even in the top 14, but something tells me he's turned a bit of a corner, or at least he's got a team that's allowed him to do so.
Every season the Coach of the Year Award tends to go to whichever coach either improves his team the most or ends up with a whole mess of wins during the regular season, both of which seem like possibilities for Del Negro's Clippers.
Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment of the year, Del Negro finally elicited a word of positivity out of Bill Simmons after they beat San Antonio for the second time:
Clips beat SA again. Gotta say, Vinny is doing well this season - like the lineups he's using and he's sticking to rotations. Much improved.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) November 20, 2012
Simmons pretty much hits the nail on the head when it comes to what has made Del Negro seem like such a better coach this season. It's not necessarily that he's stuck to his rotations, but he's been forced to stick to his rotations.
It was obvious coming into the season that Jamal Crawford was going to be used as their sixth man if at all possible, most likely followed by Eric Bledsoe and whatever Lamar Odom could give them. That left a starting lineup of Chris Paul-Willie Green-Caron Butler-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan the only possible option.
The good thing for Del Negro has been Crawford coming out of the gate playing like he hasn't played since his days in Atlanta. That, combined with Bledsoe becoming a cult of personality and Odom somehow playing worse than last season made his top seven obvious.
Going further, injuries to Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill has given him no choice but to utilize Green and Matt Barnes to a certain extent, and it's worked out for them.
Most impressive is that Del Negro is managing the ends of games. Instead of running Jordan out and letting him get hacked the entire quarter, he's swapping in Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf (both insanely better free throw shooters) who are capable of playing physical without fouling the game away.
In the end, however, a lot of the credit has to go to the real head coach of the Lakers, Chris Paul.
In the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers dealing with a coaching change in which every coach involved seemed to have a name for their coach, Del Negro was asked the name of his offense. Negro's response was simple, "Yea, Chris Paul."
The "here ya' go" offense is something Mike Brown was criticized for during his time with Cleveland when he was giving games to LeBron for stretches at a time, but in this case it's really the best option. Del Negro knows he's got one of the smartest point guards in the league, so giving him the reins of the offense makes as much sense as giving Jamal Crawford big minutes right now.
In the end, Del Negro's coaching improvement should be chalked up to common sense. A year ago we weren't sure he had a hint of it, but it seems obvious now that he at least understands the basic principle of an offense.
We probably shouldn't be getting too far ahead of ourselves here talking about Del Negro as a good coach; he still does have his Vinny Del Negro moments.
After all, when he was asked how the Clippers lost back-to-back games to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers after wins against the Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies, Vinny simply said, "We haven't done anything."
Never change, Vinny. Never change.