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NBA PM: Vinny Del Negro Getting Another Chance?

Vinny Del Negro is a leading candidate for the Timberwolves’ job and could be getting his third (and final?) shot as a NBA coach.

Yannis Koutroupis profile picture
Updated 12 months ago on
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Someday, Vinny Del Negro’s name may come up as a leading candidate for a head coaching position without eliciting negativity and questioning of the decision maker behind the hiring process.

That day is not today.

News came across the wire earlier from ESPN’s Marc Stein that Del Negro is emerging as a strong candidate for the Minnesota Timberwolves’ head coaching position and they’re not alone in their interest of him, either. The Cleveland Cavaliers also have him on their long list of potential replacements for Mike Brown.

The most common response to those reports has been why? Just like when he was hired by the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers.

On the surface, Del Negro’s resume (his agent Lonnie Cooper’s main selling point) is actually quite respectable. He had a long playing career from 1988-2001, spent time working in the front office of the Phoenix Suns as the director of player personnel and assistant general manager and now has five years of coaching experience. He has a career coaching record of 210-184, a .533 winning percentage. He’s missed the playoffs just once and is accustomed to working with stars, having coached Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Rose and Griffin bloomed particularly well under his guidance, but Del Negro was dismissed by both the Bulls and Clippers in relatively short order for a reason.

Both franchises felt like they underachieved with him calling the shots on the sidelines, and their success upon his departure did little to dispel the notion. The Bulls advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals the following season after replacing him with Tom Thibodeau. Rose has been out for the better part of the last two seasons, but during that time the Bulls have remained a playoff team. Thibodeau has had his differences with the front office, but never because they felt like they made a mistake in hiring him.

In his last season with the Clippers, Del Negro went 56-26, but a first round exit prior to Paul hitting free agency still earned him a pink slip. With Doc Rivers in his place and in charge of personnel they won one more game, finishing 57-25, and advanced to the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs – despite the distraction of team owner Donald Sterling’s racist tirades leaking out to the public and earning him a lifetime ban.

Trouble off of the court was common during Del Negro’s tenures with both franchises as well.

In Chicago, he clashed with upper management over his rotations and use of players to the point where it nearly got physical on one occasion.

The Clippers’ locker room became divided under Del Negro’s watch, playing a big part in their early exit during his final season. The team wasn’t on the same page and lacked faith in Del Negro, especially after blowing a 2-0 lead against the Memphis Grizzlies. He was also criticized for his in-game adjustments, simplistic offense and average (at best) defense. Although Paul denied it, there was a lot of talk at the time that he, and a few other Clippers players, asked for him to be let go.

Yet, Del Negro still finds himself firmly in the hunt for his third head coaching gig.

He’s apparently won over Timberwolves general manager Flip Saunders, but is going up against Sam Mitchell, a favorite of Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor as a former player of his. The Timberwolves are at a fragile place as a franchise right now with their star player Kevin Love longing for a change of scenery and approaching free agency. Del Negro isn’t the kind of hire that’s going to make him back off of that stance, but in reality no hire may be good enough at this point. With Rick Adelman at the helm for the last three seasons, coaching is not what’s driven him out the door and it’s unlikely going to drag him back in either.

Del Negro’s experience working with Paul and Rose is working in his favor, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. With Love potentially on the way out, maximizing Ricky Rubio’s abilities is going to become paramount for the Wolves. Plus, Del Negro is no-nonsense in his approach. He’s not going to come in and cater to Love in an attempt to get him to stay. He’s going to coach him just like he would anyone else, and that could go a long way in the eyes of the players who stay on the team past Love’s departure, which seems inevitable. Who knows, it could also influence Love in a positive way too, although that is unlikely.

Cleveland is still very early in their process, but their general manager David Griffin is a fan of Del Negro’s. There was serious internal friction inside of their locker room, but Griffin has the green light, financial flexibility and draft assets to make wholesale changes. Like the Timberwolves, they have a young point guard they want things to revolve around in Kyrie Irving and Del Negro’s intensity could be what this young team needs to take the next step forward. Brown’s player-friendly approach certainly wasn’t it. Irving is rumored to be just as unhappy as Love, but the situation isn’t at it’s climax like it is in Minnesota. There’s still plenty of time before they have to address it.

The Cavaliers, winners of the draft lottery, have also been linked to Bulls assistant Adrian Griffin, Clippers assistants Tyronn Lue and Alvin Gentry, Miami HEAT assistant David Fizdale and multiple college coaches, with Florida’s Billy Donovan serving as the only realistic candidate from the college ranks now.

In defense of Del Negro, he’s yet to be fully embraced. He was seemingly coaching for his job from day one with the Clippers and Bulls. However, that’s just how it is in today’s NBA. NBA head coaching stints continue to get shorter and shorter, as Del Negro has learned first handed. Second chances are hard to come by. For Del Negro, this would be his third, and if it doesn’t go significantly better than the first two, there won’t be a fourth.

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Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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