Steve Clifford did what any good coach would do — he fell on the sword for his players.
Last season’s Hornets won 10 fewer games than the season before (and missed the playoffs), mostly because of an offense that got 3.5 points worse per 100 possessions. There were a lot of factors that led to the step back: Al Jefferson‘s conditioning, early defensive struggles, Kemba Walker being injured, Josh McRoberts being gone, Mo Williams missing most of the season, and on down the line.
But when talking to the media in Charlotte Tuesday, Clifford took the blame on himself, reports the Charlotte Observer.
“We’ve got to be more ready to start the year. … Last year I did a poor job of getting the team ready for the season. We were bad (initially) on offense and bad on defense.”
The Hornets want to jump back into the playoff picture and made off-season moves more targeted at the short-term rather than the long-term (such as drafting more-ready Frank Kaminski as opposed to taking the massive package of picks Boston offered for the No. 9 slot because Justise Winslow was still on the board). They added players such as Nicolas Batum, Spencer Hawes, and Jeremy Lin to make them better now.
Despite all that, a lot of the Hornets early success will come down to big man Al Jefferson — is he ready to be an offensive focal point and provide a little more on defense than he did to start last season? Clifford thinks so.
“He lost considerable weight. He’s where he should be.”
The challenge for Clifford is molding a roster where about half of the players are new, and get them to play a more balanced offense that is not too Jefferson-centric. Like every coach, what he wants is more ball movement.
“Hopefully more five-man movement and quick decision-making,” Clifford said of his offensive goals 10 days out from training camp. “If we can combine that with a good post game, … (Jefferson) is by far our best offensive player. He’s 10 years of 19 (points) and 10 (rebounds). But we can’t play where every play is to Al.”
The Hornets should be in the playoff mix in the East. Things need to go right for them — Batum needs to step up with a big season, a little better offense from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wouldn’t hurt, their defense needs to be rock solid — but it could well happen.