When new Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak refused to address Steve Clifford’s future at his introductory press conference, that seemed telling.
Charlotte Hornets President of Basketball Operations & General Manager Mitch Kupchak announced today that the team has relieved Steve Clifford of his head coaching duties.
“I want to thank Coach Clifford for his contributions to the Hornets,” said Kupchak. “I know he has worked incredibly hard on behalf of the organization and we wish him the best moving forward. The search for a new coach will begin immediately.”
Charlotte went 43-39, 33-49, 48-34, 36-46 and 36-46 in five seasons with Clifford. Point difference tends to better represent a team’s quality than record, and the Hornets actually outscored their opponents the last two seasons – but won just 36 games each year. Perhaps, with better luck, Clifford would still have a job.
Clifford quickly established a strong defense in Charlotte, his players buying in around his straightforward approach. He later adopted a more modern offense, though that nudged the Hornets only around league average in scoring, and that defense slipped.
In 2016, Clifford guided Charlotte to its first playoff-game victory since the franchise reemerged as the Bobcats in 2004. That 2016 team was full of expiring contracts, and Clifford helping to keep everyone together is one of the most underrated coaching jobs in recent memory.
The Hornets’ payroll got high, and they didn’t meet expectations. Clifford will take the fall, and Kupchak will get to pick his own coach. But Charlotte’s salary-cap picture remains thorny, and that’s Kupchak’s problem now. No coach will solve all those issues.
Clifford should become one of the hottest coaches on the market – if he wants to be. Health issues kept him out a significant portion of this season.