Would you actually take the Charlotte Hornets' head coaching job?
Before you answer, think carefully. Yes, you would be paid very well. But the overwhelming odds are that you would fail – and that failure could be a career killer.
After all, the six men who came directly before you have all tried – and ultimately failed – to lead the Hornets to their long-stated goal: becoming a consistent winner. And none of those coaches, post-Hornets, has made a lot of basketball headlines other than Larry Brown’s utterly predictable scandal at SMU.
You would be No. 7 in terms of head coaches employed in the Hornets’ most recent incarnation – when Charlotte’s NBA franchise re-entered the league for the 2004-05 season. Let’s stick with that timetable for now.
When new Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak fired Steve Clifford as Charlotte’s head coach Friday morning, he ensured that the Hornets will continue one of their most uneven and exasperating tendencies. Of the six men who have had this job since the 2004-05 season, all six departed the Hornets with far more losses on their record than wins.
In order of coaches in the new era and their Charlotte-only winning percentage, that would be:
Bernie Bickerstaff (.313); Sam Vincent (.390); Larry Brown (.458); Paul Silas (.267); Mike Dunlap (.256) and now Clifford (.478), who lasted the longest in the job (five seasons) and had the most overall success in Charlotte.
Vincent and Dunlap — both of whom somehow got Michael Jordan’s blessing — were historically awful hires. Each got a quick hook, lasting only one season. They were widely regarded as being hired in part because Jordan could get them cheaply.
Bickerstaff and Silas were nice men saddled with bad teams who couldn’t turn them around. Brown worked a brief bit of magic before imploding in a very Larry Brown sort of way in the middle of the 2010-11 season.
Clifford was the best of the lot when you’re talking strictly Charlotte Hornets records and not counting Silas’ first go-around in a more successful era. Clifford got Charlotte to the playoffs twice and broke a number of the team’s records for futility. But he was also unable to win a single playoff series, and each of his final two teams finished 36-46.
So, as I have written before, I would have liked to see Clifford get to coach the final season on his contract but never really expected him to get that chance. Kupchak wants a clean slate, and that makes sense. The reason I wanted Clifford to go for one more season is simply because I don’t have a lot of confidence in the Hornets hiring a good man for this job based on watching the team stumble so often through the past 14 years.
If another Vincent or Dunlap is waiting in the wings, woe be to the poor Hornets season-ticket holders who have seen three playoff appearances in the past 14 seasons (and all three of them ending in first-round defeats).
In the best-case scenario, Kupchak convinces somebody good to interview for the job — I don’t pretend to know exactly who that is — and Jordan is convinced to give him enough money and a long enough contract to allow for the inevitable rebuilding process.
And there will be a rebuild, for sure, even though Kupchak kept shying away from using the “R” word Tuesday in his news conference.
The 2018-19 Hornets will include Kemba Walker and Dwight Howard — the 2019-20 Hornets, in my opinion, will not. Maybe Kupchak can convince Walker to stick around, but Walker is running out of years and surely wants to play for a winner. I can’t imagine the Hornets signing Howard to another contract.
So the next coach for the new Charlotte Hornets has quite a job in front of him. He’s going to have to believe — against the prevailing wisdom — that the Hornets can be turned into the sort of team they were in the late 1990s, when they actually won 50 or more games three times in a four-year span.
That seems ages ago. In NBA terms, it was. I hope the Hornets don’t have to go through three or four more head coaches to get there again.