Steve Clifford returns as Hornets coach

CHARLOTTE, NC – Steve Clifford returns to Charlotte.

Clifford has agreed to a multi-year contract to return as head coach for the NBA’s Hornets, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity Friday because the team has yet to announce the move.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski also reported the hiring.

Charlotte previously agreed to the terms of a four-year contract with Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson to become head coach, but Atkinson later informed the team that he did not take the job citing family reasons.

The 60-year-old Clifford spent five seasons coaching the Hornets from 2013-18, racking up a record 196-214 with a team that included Kemba Walker.

He led the Hornets to two playoffs before being sent off in 2018 when Mitch Kupchak arrived as general manager. Clifford coached the Orlando Magic from 2018-21 and last season worked as a coaching advisor for the Brooklyn Nets. Clifford is 292-345 in eight seasons as a coach in the NBA.

His best season in Charlotte came in 2015-16 when the Hornets were 48-34 and lost in seven games to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

Team owner Michael Jordan met Wednesday with Clifford, who left the team on good terms in 2018.

Clifford is known as a defensive minded coach.

The Hornets ranked sixth, tenth, ninth, seventeenth and seventeenth in the defensive rankings during Clifford’s five seasons. Charlotte was 22nd in the NBA this past season under James Borrego, who was sacked in April. The Hornets ceded 132 points in a 29-point loss to the Hawks in last season’s elimination game, which didn’t do well with Jordan.

Ironically, Borrego replaced Clifford. Now Clifford is replacing Borrego.

Clifford inherits a team arguably more talented than any of Charlotte’s previous teams with all-star guards LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges.

Atkinson’s decision to step back from his contract on Saturday shocked the Hornets and prompted them to look for a replacement.

That was “disappointing,” Kopchak said, but he is grateful in some ways for what happened when it happened.

“I think he would have been a good choice, but if he wasn’t comfortable here, I’d prefer to find out a year from now,” Kupchak said Thursday night during the NBA draft.

Mike D’Antoni and Terry Stotts were also in mind for the job.

Kupchak coordinated the team’s draft this year without a head coach, but said it’s not a big deal and that in the past years he’s worked with coaches who aren’t even in the renovation room.

Charlotte traded her thirteenth overall pick with the New York Knicks in the future first round and four second-round picks, then took over Duke’s Mark Williams for 15th. Charlotte added Nebraska guard Bryce McGuins in the second round after another Kupchak made. trade.

“The roster is really what wins games,” Kopchak said. “A good coach will help with the list, but the most important thing is to compile the list.”

The general manager said Atkinson’s decision reminded him of when Steve Kerr turned down a job to coach the Knicks, only to go to Golden State where he won four NBA titles.

“It looks like he’s making a good decision to take the job at Golden State,” Kupchak said with a laugh. So maybe Kenny talked to Steve, and Steve said, ‘Hey, maybe it’s going to go that way for you. ” I don’t know.”

Kupchak also noted that NFL coach Bill Belichick abruptly resigned prior to his introductory press conference with the New York Jets in 2000. Belichick went on to coach the New England Patriots and won six Super Bowls.

“That was a good decision too. So maybe Kenny was about to do something,” Kopchak quipped.

Atkinson did not respond to interview requests from the Associated Press for comment about his decision to back out of the agreement. However, Kerr told NBC Sports that Atkinson turned down the job because he didn’t want to uproot his family again.

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