LOS ANGELES (AP) — Vinny Del Negro will be back as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers after guiding them to the highest winning percentage in franchise history during the lockout-shortened season.
The team said Tuesday that it has exercised its option on him to return for a third season. Del Negro led the Clippers to a 40-26 record, a winning percentage of 60.6 and the second round of the playoffs, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
"We think we have the most talented roster in franchise history and Vinny turned that into the best record in franchise history," general manager Neil Olshey said by phone. "Clearly, there was never a question that Vinny was going to come back."
Del Negro has a 72-76 record in two seasons with the team.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to continue the plan we set in place," he said by phone from his offseason home in Phoenix. "I give the players a lot of credit for playing hard and believing in what we were trying to do. I appreciate their effort and my staff's effort."
Del Negro said there was no discussion about extending his deal beyond the one-year option.
"That was not on the radar right now," he said. "It's where I want to be. We'll get to that stuff, but there's a lot more pressing issues for me."
Those include next month's draft and the upcoming free agency period, along with making decisions on current players with one-year contracts. All-Star Blake Griffin can sign a five-year extension worth up to $95 million this summer.
Olshey said no one particular result made him decide that Del Negro should return.
"Vinny does all the right things. There's no greater compliment as a coach than to see how hard his players are playing at the end of the year and that wasn't always the case in this organization," he said. "Even though we lost Games 3 and 4 at home against the Spurs, those players played hard."
While Del Negro is locked up for next season, Olshey's future with the team has yet to be confirmed. He is not under contract for next season and the Portland Trail Blazers are reportedly interested in him for their vacant GM job.
"I don't have any comment on my situation," he said. "We have a chronological order of things that need to take place to make sure we're playing at this time next year."
Olshey became GM after Mike Dunleavy left in 2010, and he has overseen a major revamping of the roster, including trading for All-Star guard Chris Paul and drafting Griffin and guard Eric Bledsoe.
Del Negro came under pressure in March after the Clippers lost consecutive road games at Indiana, Oklahoma City and New Orleans, but they responded by winning 13 of their next 15 games on the way to making the playoffs for the first time in six years.
"We stuck together, we made it work and we got on a little bit of a roll," he said. "Those are never easy times because no one enjoys losing."
Even as speculation swirled that Del Negro's immediate future was in jeopardy, Olshey said, "He knew every step of the way that he was our coach."
In a sign of the team's changing fortunes, Olshey noted that not long ago a Clippers losing streak wouldn't have been newsworthy.
"Suddenly we slipped from fourth in the West to fifth in the West and the sky was falling," he said. "We talked about it constantly. Vinny's confidence never wavered. He was never put in a situation where he was being second-guessed internally."
Olshey said he and team President Andy Roeser were in agreement on bringing Del Negro back when they went to owner Donald Sterling.
"Mr. Sterling wants a consensus on all decisions. We went to him and said we think this is what is best for the organization and he agreed," Olshey said, describing Sterling as "an owner who is willing to spend unlimited resources to bring a championship to this organization."
Del Negro coached two seasons in Chicago, compiling an 82-82 overall record and leading the team to consecutive playoff appearances before being fired in May 2010. He played 12 seasons in the NBA before retiring in 2002.