The Charlotte Hornets scrambled when Kenny Atkinson backed out of their plan to hire him as their next head coach when he decided to remain an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, but Hornets tapped Steve Clifford to coach the team next season.
The move seems odd because Clifford previously coached in Charlotte for five seasons before he was let go at the end of the 2017-18 season. However, owner Michael Jordan and general manager Mitch Kupchak felt Clifford was the right defensively-minded coach to guide this current batch of young Hornets.
“This is an exciting young team with a lot of talented pieces,” said Clifford. “Charlotte is a great city and I know first-hand the passion that Hornets fans have for this franchise. I can’t wait to get back to town and start working with our players.”
The Hornets missed the playoffs the last six years, including all four seasons under James Borrego. In the last two season, the Hornets qualified for the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament but missed a shot at securing a playoff berth.
The Hornets are +12000 odds to win the 2023 NBA championship.
Reprise: Buzz City Clifford
In eight seasons as a head coach, Clifford has a .458 winning percentage with a 292-345 record. He most recently spent three seasons with the Orlando Magic, but got fired at the end of the 2020-21 season when the Magic went 21-51. He guided the Magic to the postseason in his first two seasons with the team. However, the Magic exited in the first round both times.
Clifford got his first head coaching gig with the Charlotte Bobcats in 2013-14, before they ditched the name and returned to using the Hornets branding. In five seasons with Charlotte, he went 196-214 with two first season appearances in 2104 and 2016.
Jordan and Kupchak like Clifford because of his commitment to defense. The Hornets were one of the worst teams in that department last season, so they have a lot of room for improvement.
“We believe that his previous experience and coaching philosophy make him the best coach for our team,” said Kupchak. “Steve has a proven track record of improving defenses and is detail oriented. He has a history of maximizing players’ talent and working with them to develop and expand their skill sets. Steve is committed to playing with the same offensive pace that our fans are accustomed to seeing the last few years.”
Mike D’Antoni was a finalist during the Hornets’ initial search, but they went with Atkinson instead. When Atkinson backed out, D’Antoni was the favorite to fill the vacancy. Jordan interviewed D’Antoni again last week, but he lost out to Clifford. D’Antoni is an offensive guru, but that’s not what the Hornets need right now with a head coach. During his five seasons with the Bobcats/Hornets, Clifford assembled a top ten defense three times.