Just a few weeks ago, conversation about the Los Angeles Clippers centered on whether they could hold on and defeat their co-tenants at the Staples Center for the Pacific Division Title; as well as far they would advance in the Post Season after going home at the conclusion of the regular season, for what seemed to be an eternity for the club’s fans. The Clippers looked like they had a legitimate chance of being a threat to the Lakers continued dominance of the “City Of Angels” as the additions of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, along with All-Star Blake Griffin had suddenly turned the franchise into a high-profile NBA team.
The atmosphere in the club’s locker room has been decidedly less festive recently, as the team has a 4-6 mark in their last 10 contests. They now trail the Lakers by two and a half games in the Pacific Division and although they are currently the fifth seed in the Association’s Western Conference; they only lead the Utah Jazz who are now in ninth place by two games. Suddenly; it is no longer a given that the Clippers will even make the Playoffs and the team seems to be buckling under the pressure.
The situation may have come to a head Wednesday night as the squad dropped their second straight game, getting blown out by the Oklahoma City Thunder by a final margin of 114-91. The “Los Angeles Times” has reported that after the contest the team’s bench boss Vinny Del Negro went ballistic on his players; screaming so loudly that reporters in the hallway outside of the locker room were able to hear him.
Del Negro talked about his tirade with the media when he emerged from the locker room. The Clippers bench boss now in his second year with the team said “I’m big into how you approach games and how you compete. We have to get the mentality of we have to play a certain way to win right now. And it has to be through our defense because we lack certain things. In order for us to score enough points to take pressure off of us, we have to be able to guard better. But our overall approach and everything to the game has to be better. That’s what is disappointing to me. We have to do a better job of being in the moment from the get-go and not waiting to get into the game.”
There is no question that if the Clippers fail to make the Playoffs this season; it will be a public relations disaster for the team and will cost Del Negro his job. The club lost Billups to season ending injury earlier in the campaign; however the team has enough depth at the guard position that the veteran’s absence from the lineup will not be a valid excuse to miss the Post Season. Del Negro is well aware of the situation and the pressure he is feeling may have alienated his players after berating them Wednesday night.
The former NBA player’s first experience as a head coach with the Chicago Bulls ended ugly; as he got into a physical altercation with Bulls executive John Paxson during the campaign before being dismissed at the conclusion of the season. Although Paxson later admitted that the incident was all his fault and he was totally out of line; situations like that tend to follow a coach, at least until he has redeemed himself after the situation took place. Being unable to get the Clippers to the Playoffs this year would definitely make teams leery of putting him in charge of their franchises.
With 20 games left in the abridged regular season; the Clippers control their own destiny as well as that of their coaches. The team will show how they reacted to their verbal beating at the hands of their coach on Thursday night as they head to New Orleans and take on the Hornets.