Del Negro is a former player (drafted by the Kings in 1998) who spent most of his career as a journeyman, playing for several NBA franchises and enjoying a stint in the Italian leagues.
His career coaching record is 210-184, good for a winning percentage of .533. However, his post-season record is awful. Del Negro has gone 10-19 under the rigors of post-season stress.
Let's take a look at his career to this point.
He spent two years coaching the Chicago Bulls. He came aboard during the 2008-2009 season (Derrick Rose's rookie season) and piloted a youngish Bulls team to .500 record (41-41). That Bulls team made the playoffs and pushed a veteran-heavy Celtics team to seven games (this was the series that saw Ben Gordon and Ray Allen engage in a series long clutch-off).
Going into the 2009-2010 season expectations were high for the Bulls.
But the Bulls registered another 41-41 season and Del Negro was fired. Tom Thibodeau was wisely brought in. Del Negro then moved to the Los Angeles Clippers bench.
During his three year tenure with the Clippers, Del Negro went 128-102, a winning percentage of .556. He was ousted in favor of Doc Rivers (with speculation that Chris Paul forced Del Negro out).
Looking at some of the metrics paints a compelling picture. Del Negro's first Bulls team ranked 15th in Offensive Rating, 18th in Defensive Rating and played at the 10th highest pace. His second Bulls team enjoyed an interesting spike in Def. Rtg. rising to 11th in the league. But the offensive side of the ball suffered wildly, with Chicago dropping to a dismal 27th (out of 30 teams, mind you). The team was playing at the 13th highest pace, but the offense fell off the grid entirely.
Now, player personnel could be the explanation for this drop-off. The Bulls lost Ben Gordon in the off-season (to an insane Pistons team that way overpaid him) and acquired Taj Gibson in the draft. Gibson brought an increased focus on defense, and Gordon was pretty much the sole perimeter shooter for those Bulls teams. Losing Gordon increased the slashing responsibilities for Rose and left him with the capable Luol Deng, the mercurial John Salmons, a burnt out Larry Hughes, a gritty but offensively ineffective Kirk Hinrich, and little else in the way of wing help.
But there's reason for skepticism with Del Negro. After leaving Chicago, he took over a Clippers team that included: rookies Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe, second year men DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon, and veterans Baron Davis, Mo Williams, and Chris Kaman.
This was a team with plenty of offensive potential. Del Negro's system produced the 22nd best offensive rating, the 18th best defensive rating and he had the Clips playing at the 12 highest pace.
But wait, you're saying, Griffin was a rookie. Chris Paul was not on the team yet. Those are fair points. Maybe Del Negro's system takes time to work and he was waiting for his best scorer to mature.
These are the stats for the next two seasons:
2011-2012: Pace: 89.2 (27th of 30); Off Rtg: 108.5 (4th of 30); Def Rtg: 105.7 (18th of 30) (per basketball-reference)
2012-2013: Pace: 91.1 (19th of 30); Off Rtg: 110.6 (4th of 30); Def Rtg: 103.6 (8th of 30)
That 2011-2012 increase is sharp. The pace drop is surprising but the Off Rtg is about where you'd want it to be considering the team's talent level. While they didn't increase that rating the next year, holding steady in the top-5 isn't anything to balk at.
It's worth noting that Del Negro's Clippers teams grew exponentially in talent from year-to-year. Griffin evolved into one of the best power forwards in the game, Chris Paul came aboard in 2011-2012 and the front office provided a bevy of veteran talent (including Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, and Grant Hill). He also cultivated the talents of Derrick Rose, which suggests Del Negro either has an eye for talent, or an ability to develop young players, or an insane streak of luck (which gifted him two of the most athletic players in the NBA).
But if Del Negro's teams saw such marked improvement, why was he ousted?
There are a couple of explanations:
- He's not a player's coach. Del Negro has a negative reputation among a lot of his former players. Tons of reports cited star point guard Chris Paul's dissatisfaction with the former Bulls coach. Paul reportedly demanded a better coach (aka Doc Rivers) and management acquiesced.
- He gets undressed in the playoffs. Del Negro's teams have found regular season success pretty consistently (he only finished sub-.500 one time, during 2010-2011, Griffin's rookie season). But go back and look at those last two Clippers seasons. The stats for the team are almost glowing. Here's how they finished in the post-season:
- 2011-2012---Swept by the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals (the Clips won the first round in a seven game series against the Memphis Grizzlies, helmed by fellow Cavaliers' coaching candidate, Lionel Hollins).
- 2012-2013---Lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies in a six game series.
Del Negro has made it to the second round of the playoffs just once and he got swept by Gregg Popovich (roundly recognized as a great coach). His post-season winning percentage is .345 (as a reminder, his regular season winning percentage is .533---that's a massive drop-off).
That said, playoff basketball is a different beast. The game slows down, possessions matter more, and the ability to get a stop on crucial plays is of the utmost importance. Those Clippers team had one great defender, Paul, and little else behind him. The fact that the 2012-2013 Clips team had a Def. Rtg. in the top 10 is a wee bit staggering.
But the lack of proper offensive sets were disturbing. Listen to the guys from ESPN crew discuss the Clips team under Del Negro. Something to chew on, while mulling over his potential as head coach of the Cavs (who also mostly cannot defend).