6:27pm: The Hornets have officially named Clifford their head coach, per a team press release.
“We are pleased to welcome Steve back to our franchise,” said Kupchak. “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”
4:33pm: the hornets are hiring Steve Clifford to be their head coach for a second time, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (twitter link).
Marc Stein reported yesterday morning that Clifford had unexpectedly emerged as a serious 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 met with GM Mitch Kupchak and owner Michael Jordan earlier this week.
Clifford will receive a “multi-year” contract, Boone tweets.
The Hornets were reportedly looking for a veteran head coach who could help improve the team’s defense, and Clifford has a long-held reputation as one of the better defensive tacticians in the league. Across his eight seasons as a head coach, Clifford’s clubs were top 10 in defensive rating five times.
Clifford, 60, previously coached the Hornets from 2013-18, compiling an overall record of 196-214. He took the club to the postseason in 2014 and 2016 — those are Charlotte’s only playoff appearances since 2010.
After his stint with the Hornets, Clifford was hired by Orlando to be their head coach, accumulating a 96-131 record from 2018-2021, including a couple of postseason trips in his first two seasons. His overall record with the Magic is a little deceptive, as Orlando pivoted into a full rebuild in his final season, when the team went 21-51.
Clifford was a long-time assistant prior to becoming a head coach, with stops in New York, Houston, Orlando and Los Angeles from 2000-2013. He was a consultant with the Nets last season.
Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinsonformerly the head coach of the Nets, had previously reached an agreement to become the Hornets’ new coach, but backed out of the deal and never signed the contract, thus re-starting the club’s coaching search.
Mike D’Antoni, who was said to be meeting with Jordan this week, was reportedly a finalist during 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 point.