The Magic said they “mutually agreed to part ways” with coach Steve Clifford.
Which is sometimes just code for firing while granting more dignity publicly.
But Clifford sounds like he was truly on board with departing.
Clifford, via Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:
“This was not some disjointed departure where we didn’t like each other,” Clifford said. “I got along well with Jeff and John. I feel very comfortable in saying Jeff, John and I worked well together and that we had a good relationship. This was more of what Jeff said when he talked about ‘alignment.’ That’s what it was about. Our goals did not align. I just didn’t want to spend another year …”
And his voice trails off.
Clifford probably meant “losing.” Or maybe precisely, he meant “not trying to win.”
The Magic traded most of their best players – Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier – just before the last trade deadline. Orlando is now rebuilding around Jonathan Isaac, the Nos. 5 and 8 picks in the upcoming draft. The Magic are ill-equipped to win now and would probably prefer losing to get another high pick next year.
Clifford is highly competitive and good at getting pedestrian teams into the playoffs. He instills a culture of defensive accountability that pays immediate dividends.
That was no longer the job in Orlando.
Clifford might miss his head-coaching salary. He didn’t get hired by the Pacers (who chose Rick Carlisle) or anyone else.
But Clifford must watch his stress level after health issues. Spending another season losing with the Magic clearly wouldn’t have been worth the money to him.