LOS ANGELESClippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, now more than three years removed from his dismissal as Bulls head coach, had the last laugh Saturday night. His current team blew out his former team, 101-80, and while he said all of the right things afterwards, one got the feeling that the memory bitter taste he likely had in his mouth after leaving Chicago made the Clippers blowout victory that much sweeter.
This is one of those nights. I have a lot of respect for Chicago, he told reporters. I thought we did a good job tonight in a lot of ways. Its a good, solid win for us against a very good team. You have to play hard. We knew we had to do that and our guys came out, and we responded well.
Prior to the game, at his pregame media availability, he talked about the fact that the Bulls are without injured superstar Derrick Rose, who Del Negro coached upon his arrival to the NBA.
Its Derrick Rose. Hes the MVP of the league. You take anybody of that caliber which are very few out of that lineup and obviously, its going to change. Its just natural. Derricks that good of a player, he said.
But these days, Chicago is in his rear-view mirror. Despite being looked at as the other professional basketball franchise in Los Angeles, Del Negros Clippers are actually the better team at the moment and at least early in the season, they appear to be a serious contender in the Western Conference.
Its been good. We have great guys. We have great balance to the roster. Looking forward to getting Grant Hill back, getting Chauncey Billups back from their respective injuries, he said. We have a lot of depth and were trying to use it right now. But we have nice balance, some younger guys, guys in their prime and some veteran guys who have great leadership. Things are built around Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and everyone else is accepting their role right now. We have to get a lot better. We have to improve in a lot of areas, but theyre giving me good effort and thats all I can ask for right now, is us coming together with chemistry as the season goes on.
Weve got a lot of people that I think are quality players. Its hard to give them the minutes that they probably deserve, but its about the team. Its not about individual, and you win and lose as a team, and guys have to accept that a little bit and theres nobody in our locker room that didnt know what they were getting into when they started. Well work through it as guys come back, as we manage the schedule and injuries throughout the season, Del Negro continued, discussing arguably the leagues deepest roster. Chauncey will start in the backcourt. Im not sure when hell be back. Its kind of his call, really when he feels comfortable. Hes been practicing in all contact, in all practices probably at least the last few weeks. Looks very good, but hes had a couple setbacks with his calf and his back, but hes feeling great. And then, Grant will probably be back later than Chauncey, and well just work through it. Grant went through training camp, played in China during the preseason for us. We had a good rotation off the bench then, so well just work through it when they come back, but youre talking about two guys who know how to play, know the big picture and are more than capable of accepting their roles, and theyre going to be contributors on our team.
Still, he acknowledged that in the Hollywood culture of the city, the star-studded Lakers and the recent drama surrounding Mike Browns firing, Phil Jackson getting passed over for the job and Mike DAntoni being hired as the teams new head coach means the Clippers, even with the star power of All-Stars Paul and Griffin, play second fiddle in the arena the two teams share.
It is unusual, but we dont spend any time with that. Thats kind of the fans and the media, and things. But were just kind of focused in on what we can control, our preparation, our mindset, our improvement. We know we have to get better in a lot of areas. You cant control other things that are going on, whether its the Lakers or the Bulls, or other organizations, he explained. Youve just got to control your day-to-day routine here. Were trying to continually build an environment, build a culture and do things the right way to be successful, and were not where we need to be yet, but were seeing signs of more consistency, so thats great.