The Charlotte Hornets dismissed coach Steve Clifford on Friday morning, the team announced, ending a five-year run that included two trips to the playoffs.
After hiring Mitch Kupchak as president and general manager on Sunday, owner Michael Jordan has afforded him the autonomy to reshape the franchise’s basketball operations and coaching staff. Charlotte joins an increasingly crowded group of teams pursuing new head coaches, including Orlando, New York, Phoenix, Milwaukee and Memphis.
Leaving the Hornets clears the way for Clifford to become a candidate for openings with any of those teams.
Charlotte missed the playoffs the past two seasons after two playoff appearances in Clifford’s first three seasons as coach. Clifford’s NBA coaching peers view him as a strong tactical coach with the ability to build strong relationships with his players.
All-Star guard Kemba Walker recently said of Clifford, “He’s been great from Day 1. He’s been a great coach for me, very motivational. He got me to another level. I just love him as a coach, as a person. He’s been special for me in my career.”
Clifford finished with a 196-214 regular-season record, including a 36-46 record each of the past two seasons. Before that, Clifford was a 13-year NBA assistant coach with the Knicks, Rockets, Magic and Lakers.
Clifford, 56, has recovered from a several-week bout of headaches and insomnia that caused him to take a leave of absence this season.