Clips: We decided to fire coach

LOS ANGELES -- In response to reports that Chris Paul was unhappy with being linked to the firing of former coach Vinny Del Negro, Los Angeles Clippers management on Friday publicly claimed responsibility for the decision.

"The decision not to extend a contract to Vinny Del Negro was an organizational decision from the top down," Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks said. "Our front office evaluated the season and Vinny's three years here before making this move, and our conclusion and feeling was that we needed a change."

ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported on Friday that Paul was upset with public comments made by Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling to the Los Angeles Times suggesting the Clippers dismissed Del Negro to appease star players on the team.

Sterling was not available for comment.

Paul becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and the Clippers have been widely considered the favorite to retain his services. As Paul's existing team, the Clippers can offer the All-Star point guard a five-year, $108 million contract, a longer and more lucrative deal than any other suitor.

Paul also has consistently expressed a general level of comfort in Los Angeles with the Clippers, where he's compiled a 96-52 regular-season record. The Clippers advanced to the Western Conference semifinals in 2012, but bowed out in the first round this postseason, soon after which the Clippers decided to part ways with Del Negro.

"Our goal is to compete for a championship and I felt that in order for us to keep improving, we needed to make this move to help us achieve that goal," Sacks said. "With the talent we have on our roster, it's not our goal just to make the playoffs. It's our goal to compete for a championship, and we need to find the right person who can lead us there."

According to various reports, candidates to succeed Del Negro as Clippers head coach include former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott, Indiana Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw, former Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, ESPN broadcast analyst Jeff Van Gundy and former Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan.

Sources familiar with the Clippers' hiring process say that if given permission to contact Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins and Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl, the Clippers would place those two names on their short list, as well. Both Hollins and Karl are still under contract with their respective teams.