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2013-14 CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

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Charlotte Bobcats begin Steve Clifford chapter

If you’re a Charlotte Bobcat, you might want to spend the summer perfecting your back-pedal and change of direction. Because here is new coach Steve Clifford’s “non-negotiable:”

“I can’t promise you anything else about our defense, but we’re not giving up transition baskets,” Clifford said Wednesday during an Observer interview after his introductory news conference.

“You are going to have your non-negotiables. We’re going to run – play the quickest tempo you can – but everybody is going to rebound before we run. The other way never works. We’re not giving up transition baskets.”

Clifford, 51, becomes the sixth coach in the Bobcats’ 10-year history. He is similar to his predecessor, Mike Dunlap, in that he is a defense-first coach. But over an hour-long interview he differed from Dunlap in two key areas:

He’ll put as much emphasis on developing veterans as he will the young players. And he doesn’t think yelling at players serves much purpose in dealing with NBA pros.

Dunlap had some conflicts with several veterans during his season on the job. He said he saw his job primarily as developing the youngest guys on the roster.

Clifford said Wednesday it is just as important to find a role for veterans Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood as any of his other duties. And he sees yelling at players constantly as a waste of time.

“At your ages, you’re not going to let me yell at you,” Clifford said of NBA players. “You’re men. Your life experiences are so different from a 19-year-old sophomore going to frat parties.”

This is Clifford’s first try at being an NBA head coach, but it follows 13 seasons as an assistant with the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers. He worked closely with Jeff Van Gundy in Houston and Stan Van Gundy in Orlando. That’s where he developed this philosophy that you can hold players accountable without being an ogre.

“If you don’t establish a connection – them respecting you, a commitment to win – you don’t get to what you’re seeing now,” Clifford said, referring to the three teams still in the playoffs.

“Part of that is coaching and part of that is having the right guys.”

Despite the Bobcats’ 28-120 record the past two seasons, Clifford thinks he has some “right guys.” He mentioned Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo and especially Gerald Henderson as players with the competitive personalities he desires. Of Henderson, a restricted free agent, Clifford used the word “edge” to describe his persona.

Small forward Kidd-Gilchrist, the second overall pick a year ago, had an uneven rookie season. But Clifford sees a lot of potential there.

“I think he can be an absolute lock-down defender, which is a big deal,” Clifford said, adding Kidd-Gilchrist, 19, potentially can cover shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards.

“Then he can get the ball to the basket – he has a great knack for cutting, which is critical because he’s not a (long-)range shooter yet.

“There are ways he can score we have to investigate. With his quickness, maybe post-ups. Maybe elbow” isolations.

Clifford had about two weeks to prepare for the Bobcats interview last week. Then he was scheduled to fly Monday to Milwaukee for a second interview as a finalist for the Bucks job.

Milwaukee’s interest apparently pushed the Bobcats to act. On Saturday vice president of basketball operations Rod Higgins called Clifford’s agent, Steve Kauffman, to begin negotiations. But late Sunday they had parameters of a deal.

Clifford has the next two seasons guaranteed, plus a team option for the 2015-16 season. If he coaches all three seasons, he’ll make roughly $6 million.

With all that lead time before his first interview in Charlotte, Clifford watched numerous Bobcats games from this season and started forming a style of play.

“We’ll play the quickest tempo we can play effectively,” Clifford said of the offense. “We need to play fast with this team. You have to utilize the strength of your players. Kemba is strong in the open court, so is MKG. Henderson is fast. And Bismack is a runner.”

Defensively Clifford is a stickler about two things beyond getting back in transition: Don’t commit silly fouls and everyone – not just the big men – takes responsibility for rebounding.

“If you foul, these guys are going to make them,” Clifford said. “Then you have to have the multiple-effort mentality – where you can give help and then get the rebound.

“That’s critical. Some of these guys have to rebound more.”

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