In another move aimed at getting the Charlotte Hornets on track, majority owner Michael Jordan fired coach Steve Clifford on Friday after the team went 36-46 and failed to reach the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons.
Clifford had a year left on his contract. The move to dismiss him came after his face-to-face meeting Friday with new general manager Mitch Kupchak.
“I want to thank Coach Clifford for his contributions to the Hornets,” Kupchak said in a statement. “I know he has worked incredibly hard on behalf of the organization and we wish him the best moving forward. The search for a new coach will begin immediately.”
Jordan hired Kupchak on Sunday to replace Rich Cho, who was fired earlier in the season after the Hornets failed to climb out of an early slump.
The Hornets were 196-214 in five seasons under Clifford. They reached the playoffs twice, but failed to make it out of the first round in 2014 and 2016.
Clifford on Wednesday called this a “disappointing” season because he felt this was his most talented Hornets team. It was a rough season for him in other ways — he missed 21 games because of headaches stemming from sleep deprivation.
He acknowledged that the Hornets “didn’t make good progress” this year, particularly on defense, his forte.
Clifford is the third NBA coach to be dismissed since the end of the regular season, following Jeff Hornacek of New York and Frank Vogel of Orlando.
Clifford was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers for one season while Kupchak was the general manager there. Kupchak said this week he knew then that Clifford had head coaching potential. But it took Kupchak less than week on the job to fire Clifford.
“The NBA isn’t about winning, the NBA is about winning in the playoffs,” Clifford said Wednesday when asked about his job security. “So if you want to look back at our five years, and I told our staff this last night, I do feel very good about where we are and how we are perceived versus where it was five years ago.
“We made great gains. To be relevant and respected in this league is a long way from where we started. And I do know people respect how we play, our purpose of play and everything like that.”
But Clifford went on to say that isn’t enough.
“You’re fooling yourself to say that it’s better,” he said. “That’s not what it is. So you know I don’t have my head in the sand of what this head coaching is all about. Also you can’t walk around like that, I don’t care how many years you have left on your contract, and you can get fired in one week in this league.”
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