Clippers need to learn how to live with success

SACRAMENTO — The cow bell crowd came to beg some more for NBA attention, maybe the last Kings' game to be contested on this prairie before a move to Seattle.

But there was the real possibility the energy in this graveyard might raise the Kings from the dead, thereby sending the Clippers to Memphis to begin the playoffs.

However, this has been the best regular season in Clippers' history, with Wednesday night's 112-108 victory the exclamation point.

While the local yokels remained here in their seats long after the game was over, chanting, "Here we stay," there's a lot more basketball to be played in Los Angeles.

But now only the playoffs remain before Clippers' management begins messing with success and chooses not to rehire Vinny Del Negro as coach.

You think I'm kidding?

Hey, only the Clippers until they prove otherwise.

The franchise, that has known only losing, is still new to success and what it will take to maintain it. And it's beginning to show.

There are already names being floated around the league on who might replace Del Negro, shockingly absurd when you consider Del Negro has a winning record as Clippers' coach.

And where do you find one of those guys?

I could locate only one other in their Los Angeles history, Larry Brown, and yet Del Negro still has a better winning percentage.

Del Negro's name should probably be mentioned in consideration for coach of the year honors. He hired, and in some cases negotiated the contracts, of almost everyone who is sitting on the Clippers' potent bench.

And then he kept them happy all season long.

His team swept the Lakers this season, won a division title and recorded 56 wins in a Western Conference rich with worthy opponents.

But there's a feeling within the Clippers that the players and the organization could do better with someone else.

I'd suggest a psychiatrist.

The front office turned sour on Del Negro earlier this season when he chatted with Celtics' boss Danny Ainge about a deal to acquire Kevin Garnett. They felt it wasn't his place to do so.

Hard feelings remain.

Del Negro also isn't as sold on keeping DeAndre Jordan as the front office is, and so there are grounds for continued conflict. If I knew the name of the team's wallflower general manager, I would tell you.

Andy Roeser remains Donald Sterling's top aide, but he's lost much of his influence now that Sterling's son-in-law, Eric Miller, has joined the team in training as possibly Sterling's heir apparent.

Too early to say if we're talking upgrade.

Mike Dunleavy used to work around the front office, bypassing Elgin Baylor to get things done. But he was more the politician, while Del Negro isn't one for sweet talk.

Del Negro began this season as a lame duck, and remains one. The organization has been waiting for some kind of sign from Chris Paul on whom he would like to see coaching the team.

Thus, they don't know Paul as well as they should. He will never be party to such a decision, thereby changing his reputation from good guy to prima donna athlete wanting special treatment.

There are some who think the Clippers are in need of someone who can design a half-court offense. Asked earlier this year what offense he was running, De Negro said, "Chris Paul."

How big of a risk would it be to bring in someone who might not mesh offensively with Paul as well as the guy already in command?

There are some who contend Paul would welcome such an offensive mastermind. They might get their wish unless the Clippers pause to regain their senses.

The Clippers had a chance to extend Del Negro's contract earlier this season with the team running off 17-straight wins. But Del Negro has long-range plans, and the Clippers weren't ready to make such a commitment.

Now they will have to pay the going rate for a coach they hired initially on the cheap. A coach who has proved capable of taking a team to the playoffs four out of five years.

Like everyone else, the Clippers underrated the guy who took a mediocre Bulls' team to the playoffs twice, nearly knocking off the No. 1-seeded Celtics as the No. 8-seeded team.

And now Del Negro, 128-102 as coach here, has the Clippers returning to the playoffs, beginning with Saturday's playoff opener in Staples Center.

The Clippers, proving their toughness in winning a Game 7 a year ago in Memphis, went down to the Kings by one with 2:31 to play. After a night in Sacramento, it could get worse as they were now headed to Memphis.

But Jamal Crawford, one of those key Del Negro acquisitions, threw up a rainbow three and there was no longer any need for ear plugs in this joint.

A Blake Griffin tip was then the prettiest thing you will ever see in Sacramento.

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