The Who famously sang "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" – and the Charlotte Hornets are taking that to heart.
In one of the more surprising coaching hirings in recent memory, the Hornets are bringing back Steve Clifford for a second stint as head coach of the team.
Clifford was Charlotte’s bench boss for five seasons and guided the team to two playoff appearances before he was fired following the 2017-18 season, and then hired a few weeks later by the Orlando Magic. He compiled a 196-214 record with the Hornets and is 292-345 in eight seasons as an NBA coach.
His best season in Charlotte came in 2015-16 when the Hornets went 48-34 and lost in seven games to the Miami Heat in the first round the playoffs.
OFFICIAL: We have named Steve Clifford head coach. Clifford, who previously served as head coach from 2013-2018, is the second-winningest coach in franchise history. @CorcoranHM | : https://t.co/ayn3xxdtze pic.twitter.com/4LRNaWK85U— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) June 24, 2022
The Hornets initially offered the job to Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, but he later told the team he was backing out due to family reasons.
"I think [Atkinsons] would have been a good pick, but if he’s not comfortable here I would rather find out now then a year from now," Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday night at the NBA Draft.
This time, Clifford inherits a team that is more talented than any of his previous Charlotte squads with All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges.
The Hornets finished last season with the league’s eighth-ranked offense, but were weak defensively, and allowed 132 points in a 29-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in elimination game last season. Outgoing head coach James Borrego was also criticised for failing to play young, emerging talent, instead opting to give minutes to established veterans who lacked upside.
Defense has been the organisation’s priority in seeking a new leader, and Clifford has long been considered one of the NBA’s top defensive coaches. The Hornets finished sixth, 10th, ninth, 17th and 17th in defensive rating during his five seasons. They were 22nd this past season under Borrego, who was fired in April.