According to reports from both Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports, Steve Clifford has been fired as the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets, joining Jeff Hornacek of the New York Knicks and Frank Vogel of the Orlando Magic as the coaches that have been fired after the NBA regular season ended.
Clifford posted an overall record of 196-214 in his 5 seasons at the helm of the Hornets, and even though he is regarded as one of the smartest coaches in the league by some, the Hornets had not made the playoffs since 2015-16, where they won 48 games, won a share of the Southeast Division title with Miami and Atlanta, and played the Heat tough for a full seven game series.
Since that playoff run, the Hornets posted identical 36-46 records, and with the removal of GM Rich Cho during the season, the signs became increasingly clear that Clifford would not be retained after this season, as new GM Mitch Kupchak will look to make his own hire as the Hornets look to move forward with a potential rebuild coming soon, given that Kemba Walker doesn’t agree to a contract extension before the season starts in October.
For Clifford, there will be multiple NBA teams that will come calling for him to take a role in their respective organizations. Even with his removal from Charlotte, the general feeling around the NBA is that he is still a great coach and that he can be a good head coach in the league. Teams that might have been considering firing their coach and looking on the market for a new one will have one more option to look at when considering potential replacements. Clifford should be considered for every coaching vacancy that it already open (New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Milwaukee, and Memphis), as well as the potential openings that could come open in Atlanta, Indiana, Los Angeles (Clippers), and Cleveland.
For the Hornets, look for Kupchak to continue changing things as far as a roster perspective is concerned. Perennial All-Star Kemba Walker is on the last year of his contract this upcoming season, as is Dwight Howard, who is reaching the twilight of his career after signing a 3-year, $70.5 million deal with Atlanta in the summer of 2016. The Hornets will be looking to shed some of its long-term salary (Nicolas Batum to be specific), so dangling Walker out there in trades will be something to look out for, even with Michael Jordan’s “ultimatum” that Walker will only be traded for an All-Star player.
Overall, this move makes sense for both sides, as the Hornets need a total refresh from a basketball perspective, and Clifford getting out on the open market will be better for him in the future, as he can move to a team with less cap flexibility issues and have more control of the personnel on the roster.