The Charlotte Hornets have hired Steve Clifford to be their new head coach.
Steve is said to have agreed to a deal to return as the Charlotte Hornets’ coach. He is one of the league’s most respected coaches among his peers, which led Hornets to two playoff trips in a five-year run that ended in 2018.
After spending five seasons with the Bobcats and Hornets from 2013 to 2018, Clifford finally made his return. During that time, he made two playoff appearances, losing in the first round both times, and finished with a regular-season record of 196-214 (47.8%).
Clifford left Charlotte in 2018 and went to coach Orlando Magic. He coached there for two seasons, reaching the playoffs in two (again, two first-round exits) and finishing with a regular-season record of 96-131.
The 60-year-old spent last season with the Brooklyn Nets. He was a “coaching consultant” and described his job as training camp work, a ton of film study, and visits with the team once or twice a month.
Clifford is known for his defensive-minded approach. During his time in Orlando, the Magic were a well-respected defensive team, finishing with a top-11 defensive rating in two of his three seasons (the two seasons before Orlando gutted their roster).
In addition, Clifford has been known to favor NBA-ready players in an attempt to put the best team on the floor at all times. This could potentially make it more difficult for some of Charlotte’s younger prospects to see playing time, as Clifford will undoubtedly be focused on leading the Hornets to their first playoff appearance since 2016.
Meanwhile, Orlando Magic and the said Head Coach Steve has agreed to part ways, the Team took time to contemplate the future. However, after a couple of weeks, they decided the fire was not right anymore.
Orlando’s rebuilding project will no longer include Clifford, after he and the Magic completed an agreement Saturday to end his three-year run with the club. Magic president Jeff Weltman stressed that it was a mutual decision and he respected Clifford for being able to “assess where he is in his career.”
“Obviously, we’ve repositioned our team,” Weltman said. “And so, there has to be alignment. There has to be alignment in everything you do in this league. And if there’s no alignment, it’ll undermine everything.”
That alignment clearly did not seem to be there. Weltman indicated that Clifford – who will turn 60 before next season starts – decided he was not the right coach to lead the Magic through what may be serious growing pains with a young group.
“The ‘why’ is quite simple here: alignment,” Weltman said. “And if ‘Cliff’ is questioning whether the positioning of our team kind of aligns with his own career positioning, then he’s probably not the right guy at that point. I appreciate the fact that ‘Cliff’ can look himself in the mirror and have those conversations with himself because I don’t think a whole lot of people can do that.”
Orlando becomes the third current coaching opening in the NBA, following Brad Stevens being promoted to president of the Boston Celtics and Portland’s move Friday to seek a new coach after Terry Stotts held that role for nine seasons.
Jobs coming open did not affect the Magic timetable, Weltman said. He also did not say if the team has a target date for a hire. For now, the assistant coaches – a group that includes Ty Corbin, Steve Hetzel and Pat Delany – remain in place, and it would not be surprising if some got at least a meeting with the Magic during the interview process.
Clifford was 96-131 in those three seasons, though that record is a bit misleading given how many injuries the team dealt with this season. Orlando went to the playoffs in 2019 and 2020 under Clifford, their first postseason trips since a run of six straight ended in 2012.
Orlando was 21-51 this season, and Clifford missed some games near the end of the season after testing positive for COVID-19. He had been vaccinated just as the positive test results came back, was asymptomatic and returned for the season’s final few days.
Clifford dealt with health issues in the past. He missed 21 games during the 2017-18 season when he coached in Charlotte after problems caused by sleep deprivation presented themselves, and he left a game at Minnesota in March 2020 after experiencing dizziness caused by dehydration.
“It’s been an honour and privilege to coach this team in this community,” Clifford said.
After the trades, the Magic went with young and different lineups over the season’s final six weeks and will likely have two lottery picks in this year’s draft. However, the task of forming a winner from that group will fall to a different coach.
The next coach will be Orlando’s sixth since February 2015, following Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego, Scott Skiles, Frank Vogel and Clifford.
As to what the fans can expect as Clifford returns to Hornets, the team has a potential to be a factor in the Eastern Conference playoff race as soon as next season. LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges are an excellent young duo. P.J. Washington is a solid role player.
There is a strong foundation already in place for Charlotte’s next head coach to build around after the team finished 43-39 in 2021-22.