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Hornets name Steve Clifford head coach

LaMelo Ball, right, got a triple-double Saturday night against Atlanta.
Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo Ball, right, will have a new head coach in Steve Clifford.

Charlotte Hornets announced Friday that they have hired Steve Clifford as their new head coach. If the name sounds familiar, it should. Clifford was previously the bench boss from 2013-2018. His 196 wins rank second in franchise history, sitting just 11 behind Allan Bristow.

“We are pleased to welcome Steve back to our franchise,” said President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Mitch Kupchak in a released 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.”

In addition to having more than 35 years of overall coaching experience, Clifford has more than 20 years of head coaching experience in the NBA, including eight seasons as the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets (2013-2018) and Orlando Magic (2018-2021).

He served as a consultant for Steve Nash and the Brooklyn Nets during the 2021–22 campaign.

With a 292-345 career record as a head coach, Clifford had a 196-214 record in his prior five seasons in Charlotte.

In five of his eight seasons, his teams have finished in the top 10 in points allowed and defensive rating, and they have advanced to the postseason in four of those eight.

“I’m happy to be returning to Charlotte, and I want to thank Michael Jordan, Mitch Kupchak and Buzz Peterson for this opportunity,” said Clifford. “This is an exciting young team with a lot of talented pieces. Charlotte is a great city and I know first-hand the passion that Hornets fans have for this franchise. I can’t wait to get back to town and start working with our players.”

The team went 43-39 in Clifford's first season in Charlotte in 2013–14, an improvement of 22 wins over the season before. They also finished fourth in points allowed and fifth in defensive rating, up from 29th and 30th, respectively, the season before.

He guided the Hornets to their best record since 1999-2000 in 2015-16, a 48-34 record that earned them the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

During his initial stint in Charlotte, Clifford also assisted in reviving the Hornets' offense.

The squad moved to ninth in offensive rating and eleventh in points per game in 2015–16 after finishing in the bottom 10 of the NBA in terms of both points per game and offensive rating in his first two seasons.

The Hornets finished in the top 12 in terms of points per game, offensive rating, points per game allowed, and defensive rating that season, making them one of only four teams to do so.

The Hornets increased their scoring average by 14.0 points per game and their offensive rating by 9.3 from 2014–15 to 2017–18, remaining in the top half of the league in both statistical categories each of Clifford's final two seasons.

In his first season in Orlando, the Magic finished the regular season with a 42-40 record, an increase of 17 wins over the previous campaign. They also ranked fifth in points allowed and eighth in defensive rating, up from 21st and 18th, respectively, in the previous year.

Clifford’s teams are known for not committing turnovers and defensive rebounding. In eight seasons as a head coach, his teams have never finished outside the top five in the league in fewest turnovers committed, and in seven of his eight campaigns, his team finished in the top two in offensive rebounds allowed and the top five in defensive rebound percentage.

Prior to becoming an NBA head coach, Clifford spent 13 seasons as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks (2000-2003), Houston Rockets (2003-2007), Orlando Magic (2007-2012) and Los Angeles Lakers (2012-13). From 2003-2013, his teams made the playoffs in nine of 10 seasons, including five straight playoff appearances, three straight Southeast Division titles and a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals during his tenure with the Magic alongside Stan Van Gundy. Additionally, Clifford spent 15 years coaching at the collegiate level before joining the New York Knicks.

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Robb Crocker is a digital editor with WFAE. Originally from New Jersey, Robb grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, where majored in print and broadcast journalism and also studied English and creative writing. He earned a Master's degree in Communication from Rutgers University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at VCU's Media, Art & Text program. He is a veteran news/sports reporter and digital editor with stints at the Washington Post, Hanley Wood magazines, Richmond.com, WTVR CBS 6 and WRIC ABC 8. He has also produced the Writing Our Way Out podcast.