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BC-BKN--Clippers-Del Negro,1st Ld-Writethru, BKN

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Sports,NBA

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Vinny Del Negro is out as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers after a season in which the team won its first division title but lost in the first round of the playoffs.

The team said Tuesday he won't be offered a contract when his current one expires at the end of June. He is just the second coach to leave the team with a winning record, following Larry Brown in 1993.

"This was a difficult decision, but we feel this is the best decision for our franchise moving forward," said Gary Sacks, vice president of basketball operations.

Del Negro had a 128-102 regular-season record in three years with the team. The Clippers made the playoffs the last two seasons, including last year when they advanced to the second round for only the second time since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1984.

This season, the team won a franchise-record 56 games, including a 17-game winning streak. And with All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers were one of the NBA's most exciting attractions, with acrobatic dunks and dazzling playmaking. But the postseason was quick and disappointing — an exit in six games to Memphis despite a 2-0 lead.

"We would like to thank Vinny for everything he did during his three years with the organization," Sacks said. "Vinny helped this team win a Pacific Division title and we greatly appreciate all that he and his staff helped us accomplish."

The search for a new coach will begin immediately.

Del Negro had the highest winning percentage (.557) for a coach in the club's beleaguered history. He is the only coach to have consecutive winning seasons since the Buffalo Braves moved to California and became the Clippers in 1978. The Clippers had just six winning seasons in their first 41 years. Now they've put together consecutive winning records and playoff appearances for the first time in 20 years.

"We've set every franchise record," Del Negro said two weeks ago. "So I'm proud of a lot of things we did."

Much of the credit for the dramatic turnaround went to Paul and Griffin. Del Negro was criticized at times this season for his rotations, and there was speculation about whether he would return.

Paul and Griffin have been supportive of their coach, and two weeks ago Sacks acknowledged that the players' opinions would be part of the decision on Del Negro.

"I think Vinny did a great job of managing the egos and taking this team to a new level," veteran Matt Barnes said after his exit interview at the end of the season.

Del Negro had said he enjoyed working with Paul and Griffin.

"They're the nucleus of the team, obviously, that you want to keep intact and move forward with," he said.

Sacks made it clear that the team's top priority is to re-sign Paul, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. He could receive a five-year, $108 million deal.

Del Negro came to the Clippers from the Chicago Bulls, where the 46-year-old coach went 82-82 in two seasons including back-to-back playoff appearances before being fired.

Before that, Del Negro had front-office roles with Phoenix from 2006-08. He previously worked as a broadcaster for the Suns and San Antonio. He played in the NBA for 12 years.

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