Sometimes a record success just isn’t enough.
As observed by NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan, neither Lionel Hollins nor Vinny Del Negro has much in the way of job security right now.
What we see are two franchises who have been building over the last few years, collecting All-Stars in the trade market or managing rosters to deal with the luxury tax. These are two organizations that are well run and have made their way to their current success the right way.
Each won a franchise best 56 games this season and came into their first round faceoff geared up for a run at a conference semifinal against Oklahoma City. The question of job security stems from the fact that each of these coaches is in the final year of their contract and hasn’t received an extension, placing pressure on them to take their team to new heights. But is firing either of them a valid option and who is more likely to get the axe with a first round loss?
As the series heads into game 4 with Clippers holding a 2-1 advantage, the timing of talks about a coach’s future couldn’t be worse, but sure enough, as soon as one of these teams collects that third victory, the coach on the other side is going to find himself sitting on the hot seat.
Grizzlies management has made it as difficult as possible for their head coach this season, trading the team’s best scorer along with four other players from his rotation in order to balance the team’s books shortly after buying the team in November.
Despite having to adjust to new management and their expectations as well as rearrange his lineup to accommodate new players, Hollins guided the team to their best record ever and top five seed for the second straight season. But, his vocal displeasure over the trading of Rudy Gay may not play well in negotiations over a new contract unless he can guide the team into the next round and at least mirror the success of two years ago when the team beat San Antonio to get to the conference semifinal.
Between the two, Hollins seems to me an obvious choice for a contract extension. His own players have said they would be shocked to see him out of the organization and are, in general, fervent supporters of their coach. His success with the Grizzlies has come over a long relationship with the organization and proves that he can win in a small market, but if the Gay trade showed us anything, it’s that this ownership group can be a bit unpredictable.
After being heavily criticized for his coaching decisions in Chicago where he was sent packing after a pair of .500 seasons, Del Negro took over the Clippers in time to see the ascent of Blake Griffin and has turned them into a playoff team since adding the player many would argue is the best point guard in basketball in Chris Paul.
But now, with all the talent of this team, the expectation is that the Clippers take the next step. Last season, they fell in four games in the conference semifinal to the Spurs after a tough seven game series against the Grizzlies. A similar result is the least that Del Negro can muster if he wants to keep his job.
The fact is that Gary Sacks, the Clippers current general manager, didn’t hire Del Negro and has been with the organization long enough to know that the fans’ sense of urgency surrounding its current team is at an all time high. Chris Paul will likely re-sign with the team and he’s going to need a coach that can manage he and Griffin’s egos. Chauncey Billups is said to be as much the coach of this team at times as Del Negro and the organization may see fit to move in a new direction if he can’t take this team to the Western Conference Finals.
Phil Jackson’s name out there being linked with a return to basketball and the Clippers could actually accommodate his massive demands with Sacks partnering him in a sort of assistant GM role while making Jackson head coach. That is far fetched at this point, but would you be surprised to see the Clippers take a massive gamble in their quest to overtake the Lakers as the major basketball power in Los Angeles? The next step is a high profile coach to match the players it has put on the Staples Center floor and who is more high profile a coach than Phil Jackson?
While Del Negro has done well with this Clipper team, leading them to their first division title in franchise history, the expectations are rising just as they were in Chicago and perhaps once again his organization’s leadership will not have the faith in him to take the next step. Of these two coaches, this first round series is far more pivotal for Del Negro than Hollins.