Is it automatic the Charlotte Hornets need a radical makeover to get this thing fixed? The former coach isn’t so sure.
Steve Clifford coached the Hornets for five seasons before he was fired by new general manager Mitch Kupchak April 13. No hard feelings for Clifford, who loved working for owner Michael Jordan and living in Charlotte.
Clifford’s teams had back-to-back 36-victory seasons his last two years on the job. The defense didn’t improve as the season went along, Clifford said, which was this most recent team’s demise.
Is a full-scale blow-up inevitable? Clifford isn’t so sure.
“I don’t think you’ve got to go into it thinking you have to make five or six moves,” Clifford told the Observer. “Maybe one or two makes that difference.”
Clifford spent Monday and Tuesday in Connecticut on ESPN’s campus, serving as a guest NBA analyst on SportsCenter. He might do some more appearances for ESPN during the playoffs, but his focus is on being a head coach again, and he isn’t looking for a hiatus, as some other coaches have chosen after being fired.
Clifford on his future, the NBA and a bit more on the Hornets:
Q. How much change do you anticipate with the Hornets' roster?
A. Sometimes there is one move out there that can make a significant difference that you don’t count on. Portland wanted to make a move with their (salary) cap, and then Nic (Batum) makes a big impact here (in the 2015-16 season).
Or Jeremy Lin improving us at point guard because maybe other teams didn’t value him as much as we did.
Q. What’s your feeling, as far as coaching?
A. My hope is to be a head coach again (in the NBA) next year. There is a lot of movement in the league. There are certainly jobs I’m interested in. I’m looking into it. I want to be involved in the NBA. I enjoy coaching a great deal (in general), but I also (particularly) enjoy the competition in this league.
Q. If you aren’t offered a head-coaching job, would you be receptive to being an NBA assistant again?
A. Definitely. That’s not something I would do right now, but if there’s not a head-coaching opportunity, that’s definitely something I would consider.
Q. This was your first time as a head coach at the NBA level. How do you feel you evolved in the five seasons here?
A. Everyone is always evolving, if you want to improve at your craft. Especially with the health issues I went through (missing six weeks last season with severe headaches related to sleep-deprivation), I’m more conscious of where I am in life, how to be more balanced. If (basketball) is not a big, big part of who you are, you’re not going to be a success. But you also have to carve out a life, for sure. For instance, I stopped watching other NBA games at night (during the season).
Q. How would you sum up your time in Charlotte?
A. I’ve enjoyed the last five years a great deal. Michael was very good to me. I enjoyed the players here. And the fans were just great. In this league, it’s all about winning in the playoffs (neither of Clifford’s playoff teams advanced past the first round). I think the (Hornets') situation now is significantly better (than when he arrived), but you’ve got to win in the playoffs. That’s always the bottom line.
Q. Anything in particular you’ll bring to your next job, as far as preparation?
A. I learned some leadership things that I’m more comfortable using. That includes delegating (tasks) to the staff. You put people around you in high posts to provide input, and it’s important to use them.
Q. What have you thought of the playoffs so far?
A. The first round has been terrific for the league. It's been so hard-fought in both the East and the West.
Q. Were you surprised by the rise of the New Orleans Pelicans (who swept the higher-seeded Portland Trail Blazers)?
A. No. Look at how they played the last two months of the season. Also, (veteran point guard Rajon) Rondo in the playoffs is always very good. And Jrue Holiday; he’s always been a good player, but he’s been so great (in these playoffs).
Q. Your pick to win it all?
A. If Stephen (Curry) is healthy, it’s hard to pick against Golden State. But Houston is a lot better balanced (between offense and defense) and that looks to be a hell of a (Western Conference final) series.
Q. And in the East?
A. Toronto, but the biggest wild card has got to be Philly. Those two young kids (Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons) have so much: size, athleticism, competitiveness and superstar talent. But also, all the things (the 76ers front office did adding veterans) to get skill, shooting and toughness.