With the Los Angeles Clippers in free fall, tensions are high in the club's locker room, most notably in the relationship between coach Vinny Del Negro and his players, according to several sources close to the situation.
"Vinny has lost the team," one source said. "They don't want to play hard for him."
With the Clippers having lost 11 of their past 18 games to turn this once-promising season into a mess, Del Negro's job security would certainly seem to be in jeopardy. As it is, Del Negro is in the final guaranteed season of his contract. The Clippers hold a team option for next season.
Most of the players, according to sources, believe it's time for a change. They cite the uncertainty of Del Negro's rotation as a major problem. With the front office adding several players to the roster throughout this shortened season -- Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Bobby Simmons and Nick Young -- plus Eric Bledsoe's return from injury in February, players' minutes have fluctuated from game to game.
For instance, in one four-game stretch this month, Bledsoe played 6 minutes one game, 16 the next, then 4 minutes, then 17. And while starting at shooting guard, Randy Foye has played 35 minutes on some nights and 14 or 16 on others. This week, he lost his starting job to Young and did not play a minute in Tuesday's loss to Indiana.
Beyond that, players have complained that Del Negro's offensive and defensive schemes are too basic and predictable and they say he plays favorites when handing out criticism, according to the sources. They say while he refuses to harshly criticize stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, he does not hold back in jumping on the team's lesser players.
"That's a big problem," one player said. "The best coaches jump on whoever deserves it, no matter who it is."
After beating Miami, Oklahoma City, Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers en route to a 19-9 start, the Clippers, who have an 11-13 record since Chauncey Billups went down with an Achilles injury, have fallen to the fifth seed in the Western Conference and are just two games ahead of ninth-place Utah.