Del Negro hurt over tale of greed
Publication Date : February 1, 1999
Vincent Joseph Del Negro sounded weary as we spoke at what was a very late hour in Italy.
Del Negro's team had been eliminated from the Italian Cup Championship Tournament and, ever the competitor, that bothered him.
But what also bothers Del Negro is what happened in San Antonio, where he and his wife, Lynn, planned to spend the remainder of his basketball life and beyond.
"Hurt ... angry," Del Negro began, making his first public comments since being dumped by the Spurs after six years of exemplary service on and off the court. "There has been maliciousness. I hated the way I was made out to look greedy.
"Greedy? Far from it. If I was so greedy, why wouldn't I have taken the contract to remain in Italy rather than sign for the $1.75 million exception in Milwaukee?"
Del Negro turned down $4 million per season from his Italian League team to accept a four-year contract with the Bucks.
Today, Del Negro is in Milwaukee taking his physical. He'll be on the practice floor Tuesday. The Bucks open the season Friday night in Charlotte, N.C.
"George Karl has been wonderful," Del Negro said of his telephone conversations with the Bucks' head coach. "He has done everything for me that he could do. I'm looking forward to playing for him. It's nice to know that you're wanted."
Which, sadly, Del Negro wasn't in San Antonio.
As I mentioned in my Jan. 22 column, Spurs general manager/coach Gregg Popovich indicated to Del Negro and his representative, Jack Marin, in October 1997 that Vinny wasn't wanted here.
That's when a contract proposal from Marin that Popovich asked for was ignored. Del Negro, who was a free agent after last season, confirmed again that neither he nor Marin ever heard one word in response from Popovich.
But that lack of professionalism was topped by Popovich's very own brand of "bait-and-switch" last month.
That's when Popovich asked Marin to come in high - I was told Popovich's exact words were, "Make an offer that makes you look like an idiot and me look like a hero."
Marin did just that and Popovich feigned disgust and horror, putting out that Del Negro was demanding $5 million per season and using that as an excuse to dump the popular player, who could play off-guard and the point.
And lest we forget, during a dinner between Popovich and Marin on Jan. 14, it was Popovich who talked about giving Del Negro what he deserved.
The parameters of a five-year deal, which began at $3 million and topped out at $4.4 million, were discussed at that dinner.
Now, Popovich reportedly has denied this scenario on his radio show.
But you be the judge.
Do you honestly believe Del Negro would demand $5 million?
Popovich not only is insulting a good man in Del Negro, but the Spurs' boss is insulting the intelligence of every one of you.
As we spoke, I could tell Del Negro was holding back. He chose his words carefully.
Del Negro is the consummate pro. He's never been one to speak out publicly on matters.
Still, there was no mistaking the hurt he feels on this one.
"It didn't have to come to this," Del Negro said. "If they really wanted me, as Pop told Jack, they should never have let me become a free agent."
Del Negro had nothing but praise for the additions of Steve Kerr, Mario Elie and Jerome Kersey to the Spurs' roster.
"All good players, all good guys," Del Negro said.
Yet, he didn't try to hide how disappointed he was not having the chance to play with the Spurs this season.
"With Tim (Duncan), Dave (Robinson), Avery (Johnson) and a healthy Sean (Elliott), that's going to be an excellent team," Del Negro said. "And after being in San Antonio for six years, going through coaching changes and all, I was looking forward to being with the team.
"The next two years with Tim, the team really has a chance to go places."
Instead, the 32-year-old Del Negro must put his golf clubs in the closet for the cold climes of Milwaukee.
"I'm excited about the challenge," he said. "I'm excited about being coached by George. And, as I said, I'm glad to be going where somebody wants me."
In time, Del Negro said he wants to talk to Spurs owner Peter Holt about how things were handled.
I wish I thought that would matter to Holt, who seems to be under a Svengali- like spell performed by Popovich.
What's curious about all of this is that Popovich's pettiness regarding Del Negro cost him.
Portland, Detroit, Miami and Phoenix also had an interest in Del Negro.
Why wouldn't GM Popovich have done a sign-and-trade deal to have gotten something for his "resource?"
"Bottom line," Del Negro began, "all Pop had to do was pick up the telephone and say, 'Vinny, we're not going to sign you.' I understand that's business."
But with Popovich, it's always monkey business.