Clippers VP of basketball operations Gary Sacks has attempted to clear the air regarding a pair of reports surrounding Chris Paul's role in the recent departure of coach Vinny Del Negro.
After Clippers owner Donald Sterling intimated that Del Negro was let go to appease the organization's star players and a report surfaced indicating Paul was "angry" with the organization because he felt he was taking the blame for Del Negro's dismissal, Sacks told ESPN.com his front office made the call on the coaching change.
"The decision not to extend a contract to Vinny Del Negro was an organizational decision from the top down," Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks said. "Our front office evaluated the season and Vinny's three years here before making this move, and our conclusion and feeling was that we needed a change."
"Our goal is to compete for a championship and I felt that in order for us to keep improving, we needed to make this move to help us achieve that goal," Sacks said. "With the talent we have on our roster, it's not our goal just to make the playoffs. It's our goal to compete for a championship, and we need to find the right person who can lead us there."
Sacks was promoted from director of player personnel to VP of basketball operations last September after former GM Neil Olshey left the Clippers to take a similar position with the Blazers.
Shortly after the Clippers parted ways with Del Negro on May 21, the Los Angeles Times asked Sterling about the decision, and Sterling told the paper he felt the need to "support" the team's "special players."
"Was this done," I asked, "just to hang on to Chris Paul?"
"I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true," Sterling said. "So I'd rather not say anything.
"So I wonder, is this decision being made because the players are now calling the shots? Am I off base?"
"No, you're not off base," Sterling said. "This is a players' league, and, unfortunately, if you want to win you have to make the players happy."
"But if you have special players, and special players think that they know the best opportunity to win, you have to support them."
Del Negro then told The Dan Patrick Show on May 30 he was "surprised" he was let go and said Paul has "a lot of say-so" in the organization's decisions.
"Well, Chris is a free agent," Del Negro said. "They were compelled to make a decision. He's entitled to his opinion. He made First-Team All-NBA both seasons on defense and on offense and that's the first time he's done that in his career. And we set every franchise record. But, in saying that, obviously he's a free agent, he's going to have a lot of say-so in a lot of things, as he did the previous summer when we put the team together. ... It's behind me. They are positioned for success in the future. ... However it went down, it doesn't matter."
Shortly thereafter, ESPN.com reported Paul, set to become an unrestricted free agent in July, is not happy with the Clippers because he feels he is being wrongly blamed for the organization's decision to part ways with coach Vinny Del Negro earlier this month.
"He's angry right now and his anger is directed toward the Clippers organization," the source said. "Chris is a man of principle and if he feels like you've gone against his principles, it will affect how he feels about you. He's very agitated that his name has been put out there as the reason for Vinny's firing. He had nothing to do with it."
The site further reported, citing a source, Paul "refused to get involved" with the organization's coaching position and the decision to let go of Del Negro was made solely by Clippers management.
L.A. claimed its first division title, winning 56 games this season, the most in a franchise history that dates back to 1970-71. However, the Clippers were eliminated by the Grizzlies in six games in their first round Western Conference playoff series. That result represented a step back from their semifinals appearance in 2012.
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When word first broke Del Negro was being let go, Yahoo! Sports noted Del Negro wouldn't be returning because Paul “wanted a different coach.” CBSSports.com also reported Paul was “not a fan” of Del Negro and lack of support was “among the biggest reasons” the Clippers chose to move on.
The Clippers have not yet picked Del Negro's successor and are expected to conduct a deep search for his replacement.
Del Negro, 46, holds a career coaching record of 210-184 (.533) in five seasons with the Bulls and Clippers. He was 128-102 (.557) in his three seasons in L.A.
Paul, 28, was selected to his sixth All-Star Game, the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive First Team this season and posted averages of 16.9 points, 9.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. He can sign a five-year deal with the Clippers this summer or settle for a four-year contract with outside suitors.