UPDATE: The Hornets have announced the hiring and it is official, Steve Clifford is back in Charlotte.
“We are pleased to welcome Steve back to our franchise,” Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “We believe that his previous experience and coaching philosophy make him the best coach for our team. 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. We are confident that he will be able to help our young players continue to grow as we look to take the next step as a team.”
This is reportedly a three-year deal with the third year being a team option.
In the wake of Kenny Atkinson jilting them and choosing to stay in the Bay Area, the Charlotte Hornets have returned to the comfort of someone they know.
Steve Clifford, who coached the Hornets for five seasons but was fired in 2018, will return to coach the team. Marc Stein broke the news that he was seriously back in the running days ago, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski had the news he was hired.
ESPN Sources: Steve Clifford has agreed to a deal to return as the Charlotte Hornets’ coach. Clifford, one of league’s most respected coaches among his peers, led Hornets to two playoff trips in a five-year run that ended in 2018.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 24, 2022
Hornets owner Micheal Jordan met with Clifford and fellow finalist Mike D’Antoni recently and has chosen the more defensive-minded Clifford.
This is a solid hire. Clifford is a quality coach. It’s a bit of a safe pick, but the Hornets’ biggest problem last season was defense and they just hired one of the best defensive coaches in the league. Charlotte will be better on that end. What should help on defense is the Hornets’ drafting shot-blocking center Mark Williams out of Duke.
Clifford is not known for his offensive creativity but rather for liking to play a slower, grinding style. It will be interesting to see how he uses the very creative LaMelo Ball in what was a high-powered offense last season.
Now the Hornets’ front office has work to do to round out this roster. They should re-sign Miles Bridges, but to clear out cap space for that Charlotte reportedly is looking to trade Gordon Hayward and/or Terry Rozier.
Clifford had not been part of Charlotte’s original search for a head coach to replace James Borrego, but he was brought in after Atkinson pulled out. Clifford coached the Hornets from 2013-18 and racked up a 196-214 record with a couple of trips to the playoffs. After the Hornets, Clifford coached the Magic for three seasons, making the playoffs twice, but when Orlando leaned into a rebuild he stepped away.