Steve Clifford has agreed to return to coach Charlotte Hornets, sources say

Sources told ESPN on Friday that Steve Clifford has agreed a contract to become Charlotte Hornets’ coach, returning to a second run at work.

Clifford, who led the owner to two playoff appearances in the five-year run that ended in 2018, returned following Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson accepting the job and deciding to stay with the Warriors instead.

Clifford has always had a strong work relationship with Hornets owner Michael Jordan and Jordan and general manager Mitch Kupchak matched what they wanted for this growing, young list: a coach could improve them defensively and turn them into a playoff team. Clifford is well-respected among his coaching colleagues and is highly regarded in both Charlotte and Orlando for enhancing his list of talents.

Clifford has been meeting with ownership and management in recent days, and he is speeding up his candidacy to return, sources said.

Sources said the Hornets also took Mike D’Antoni, who recently interviewed Jordan, seriously.

Clifford, who has long been regarded as one of the NBA’s best defensive coaches, will work to improve the court’s decision for Charlotte’s team, which has been ranked in the top 10 teams under the NBA, including 23rd place in defensive ratings in three of the last four seasons. In 2021-22.

In his five seasons with the Hornets, Charlotte’s defense has been in the top 10 three times. In two of his three seasons as a magic coach his defenses have been ranked eighth and 11th.

Charlotte finished last season with the NBA’s eighth-ranked offense and had plenty of firepower at that end of the court between All-Star guards. Lamelo PaulForbidden Free Agent Forward Miles BridgesGuard Terry Rosier And forward Gordon HowardAmong others.

Clifford and the Hornets reunite after the team initially agreed to a deal with Atkinson to replace James Boreko, who was sacked in April after four seasons.

The 60-year-old Clifford went 196-214 in five seasons during his first season with the franchise, which led him to their best record since returning to the NBA in 2004 and returning to an expansion squad when they went 48-34 in 2016. The Hornets lost to the Miami Heat in seven games that year in the first round of the playoffs.

In 18 seasons returning to the league he led Charlotte to two of its three playoff appearances. Clifford’s 196 wins are second only to franchise history behind Alan Priesto, who coached the team in the early and mid-1990s. Clifford has teamed up with Priesto for the most games coached in franchise history.

A few weeks after Clifford was sacked by Charlotte in 2018, he was hired by Magic, where he coached for three years – including his first two seasons of back-to-back playoff appearances – before both sides agreed to split. After the 21-61 campaign in 2020-21. He spent last season in a consulting role for Steve Nash with the Brooklyn Nets.

Clifford began his career working as a coach at various colleges in the Northeast, and later as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers. .

Clifford agreed to coach the Hornets – Utah Jazz – without a head coach for next season, long-time coach Queen Snyder decided to leave the team earlier this month.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN contributed to this report.

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