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Clippers Tap Vinny Del Negro As Next Coach

Former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro is chosen over Dwane Casey as the 17th coach of the Clippers in Los Angeles.

The Clippers announced Tuesday evening that Vinny Del Negro will be the next coach of the team. Del Negro will be the 17th coach in the team's 27th season in Los Angeles. And as of now, he has the second best career winning percentage with the Clippers out of all those 17 coaches.

Del Negro was fired as the Bulls head coach on May 3 after taking the Bulls to back-to-back playoff appearances in his two seasons there.  He compiled a 41-41 record each season. He had no coaching experience prior to his stint in Chicago.

Former Clippers head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. stepped down on February 4 and a month later was unceremoniously relieved of his duties as general manager and is no longer associated with the team. Kim Hughes took over as interim head coach for the final 33 games of the season, compiling an 8-25 record.  Hughes has continued to work with the team, helping work out draft prospects. No announcements have been made regarding Del Negro's coaching staff as of yet.

The Clippers are the last of seven NBA teams to hire a new coach this summer. It would seem to be not a moment too soon (in fact, it might even be considered a few moments too late) given that the Summer League roster was announced earlier in the day, and those guys probably should have a coach with them in Las Vegas next week. Not that VDN will coach the SL squad himself, but presumably someone from his staff will, and one assumes he'd like to watch them play also.

Why did the Clippers wait so long to fill the position? That's hard to say. It started off as a supposed advantage in the free agency negotiations with LeBron James: The "name your own coach" gambit.  It also became clear that new GM Neil Olshey wanted to handle the draft himself, and didn't want a new coach injecting his opinion into the process, muddying the waters. It's much easier to reach a consensus in the war room when there's only one guy voting. With the draft occurring on June 24, and free agency a scant week later, the Clippers seemed to suddenly realize that it wasn't such a good idea after all to be coach-less going into the biggest free agency market in the history of the league, and the coach search went into overdrive.

Del Negro and Dwane Casey, the lead assistant to Rick Carlisle in Dallas and a former head coach in Minnesota, quickly emerged as the two finalists for the job. Casey appeared to be the favorite when the face-to-face interviews started last week. But after meeting with each of the candidates last week and again Tuesday, the front office gave the job to Del Negro.

This has got to be a nasty case of deja vu for Casey, who was a finalist for the Chicago job in 2008. Back then, he appeared to have the inside track for the job, and lost out to Del Negro during the final interviews. (Casey was also passed over for the Atlanta job earlier this summer.) Apparently Del Negro gives a really good meeting.

In addition to knowing his way around a PowerPoint presentation, Del Negro has done a good job developing young players in Chicago, where his lineup this season featured three starters under 25 (Derrick Rose 21, Joakim Noah 24 and Taj Gibson 24). Of course, those guys are pretty old compared to some of the Clippers VDB will be working with -- LA has six players 21 and younger in the fold, and at least five of those figure to be in the rotation, including cornerstones for the future, Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon.

Del Negro can be described as a survivor. He was on the hot seat pretty much the entire two years he coached in Chicago. After a December game in which his team blew a 35 point third quarter lead at home to the Kings, it seemed that he'd be fired at any moment. But he got the team playing better long enough to save his job. Then, when the Bulls were on a 10-game losing streak that appeared to drop them out of playoff contention in March, it once again seemed he'd lost the team. Amazingly, he regained control of the situation and got the Bulls to close by winning 10 of their final 14 games, which got them the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

And that appears to be VDN's greatest asset as a head coach -- he can motivate his team to play hard against long odds. His 2008-2009 Bulls closed the season with 12 wins in the final 16 games to pull off a similar last-minute playoff miracle.  And frankly, if he can keep the Clippers playing hard into April, that will be a major accomplishment -- we certainly haven't seen anything like that in a while.

In addition to developing the youngsters, Del Negro will be involved in shaping the roster for next season.  As of now, the Clippers only have seven players under contract -- Baron Davis, Gordon, Griffin, Chris Kaman, DeAndre Jordan and rookies Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe. In addition to those seven, second round draft pick Willie Warren figures to have a good chance to make the team. That leaves somewhere between five and eight more roster spots to be filled. The Clippers have lots of cap space with which to fill it, but seem unlikely to land any of the big free agency prizes. The biggest roster need is on the wing, but Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Rudy Gay have all re-signed with their respective teams. That leaves the biggest fish of all still in the pond, but when LeBron James announces his decision on live TV Thursday night, it doesn't figure to be the Clippers. Which means that LA will need to use its money to build the roster another way.

Del Negro will get an opportunity to shape that roster. In fact, this is quite an opportunity all around. With Griffin yet to make his NBA debut, VDN comes into a situation rife with potential. Can he lead the Clippers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006?  We'll have to wait and see.