6:27 p.m.: The Hornets have officially named Clifford their head coach, according to a team press release.
“We are happy to welcome Steve back to our franchise.said Kupchak. “We believe his previous experience and coaching philosophy make him the best coach in our team. Steve has a proven track record of improving defenses and is detail oriented. He is used to maximizing players’ talent and working with them to develop and expand their skills. Steve is committed to playing with the same attacking pace that our fans are used to seeing in recent 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..”
4:33 p.m.: The Hornets hire Steve Clifford to be their head coach for the second time, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link).
Marc Stein reported yesterday morning that Clifford had unexpectedly emerged as a strong candidate to replace James Borrego, who was fired after the team lost in the play-in tournament for the second consecutive season. Roderick Boone and Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer reported this morning that Clifford had met GM Mitch Kupchak and owner Michael Jordan earlier this week.
Clifford will receive a “multi-year” contract, Boone tweet.
The Hornets have reportedly been looking for a veteran head coach who could help improve the team’s defense, and Clifford has a long-standing reputation as one of the best defensive tacticians in the league. During his eight seasons as head coach, Clifford’s clubs finished in the top 10 defensive rankings five times.
Clifford, 60, previously coached the Hornets from 2013 to 2018, compiling an overall record of 196-214. He took the club to the playoffs in 2014 and 2016 – those were Charlotte’s only playoff appearances since 2010.
After his stint with the Hornets, Clifford was hired by Orlando to be their head coach, racking up a 96-131 record from 2018 to 2021, including a few trips to the playoffs in his first two seasons. His overall record with the Magic is a bit misleading, as Orlando pivoted to a full rebuild in his final season, when the team went 21-51.
Clifford was a longtime assistant before becoming head coach, with stops in New York, Houston, Orlando and Los Angeles from 2000 to 2013. He was a consultant with the Nets last season.
Warriors’ Assistant Kenny Atkinsonformer Nets head coach, had previously agreed to become the Hornets’ new coach, but walked out of the deal and never signed the contract, reigniting the club’s search for coaches.
Mike D’Antoni, who was scheduled to meet Jordan this week, was reportedly a finalist in both searches. There were conflicting reports on whether Terry Stotts was also a finalist before the team reached a deal with Atkinson – Stein wrote that D’Antoni was the “only other known finalist” at that time.