Hornets begin coaching search

Steve Clifford will step down at end of season

Then-Sacramento Kings assistant coach Lindsey Harding prepares for a playoff game last season. Now coaching the Kings’ G-League team, Harding is on the short list of potential coaches for the Hornets. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte Hornets’ longest-serving head coach in team history will transition into an advisory role in the front office.

Steve Clifford’s contract expires after the season. Some in the organization believed that the front office would be willing to bring him back for the 2024-25 campaign.

Others around the league speculated that he could be fired.

However, Clifford, 62, admitted to reporters that the continued grind of an 82-game season and the NBA rosters that continue to get younger and younger have left him wanting to move down from his current position, although he still wants to stay involved with the team going forward.

Health questions surrounding star point guard LaMelo Ball and second-year center Mark Williams have clouded Charlotte’s already-murky future. The next coach will inherit the rebuild already underway, led by rookie and burgeoning star Brandon Miller.

Time to go

“This is the appropriate time for me to step down,” Clifford said in a statement released by the team. “I believe this is best for me and the organization. I’m excited about the future of the Hornets, our young core of players, the leadership of our basketball operations and vision for the organization. I want to thank all the Hornets players and staff for their work the past two seasons and our Hornets fans for their continued support of our team.”

Clifford is 338-459 in 10 seasons as a head coach, beginning in Charlotte in 2013. He headed to Orlando in 2018 and later returned to the Hornets in 2022. Clifford got fired after the 2017-18 season, replaced with coach James Borrego, and brought back after Borrego was fired after four seasons.

During his seven years in Charlotte, he has a record of 242-328 and a .425 winning percentage, with just two playoff appearances. His 2013-14 Charlotte Bobcats lost in four games against the Miami Heat. The 2015-16 Hornets team fell to the Heat again in a 4-3 series loss. That was Charlotte’s last playoff appearance, and the only playoff victory since 2002.

Farewell to Cliff

“Dating back to our time together in Brooklyn, I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for Coach Cliff. I understand his decision to step down,” Hornets executive vice president of basketball operations Jeff Peterson said in a statement.

“His basketball knowledge, teaching ability and work ethic are well-respected throughout the NBA. He has had to endure some very difficult circumstances the past two years, and yet our players have continued to compete, work hard and develop. On behalf of the entire Hornets organization, I want to thank Steve for all his efforts. We look forward to having him remain a part of the organization.”

With the Hornets’ (19-59) season ending this weekend, the team has already begun its coaching search. The team lined up the first round of interviews.

Who’s next?

Charlotte’s new front office team — consisting of Peterson and co-owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin — secured permission to interview Denver Nuggets assistant David Adelman, Sacramento Kings assistant Jordi Fernandez, Boston Celtics assistant Charles Lee and Phoenix Suns assistant Kevin Young, and Sacramento Kings G League coach Lindsey Harding.

“We will look to hire someone that shares our values and vision in developing our young core and creating a culture and identity based on teamwork, accountability and competitiveness,” Peterson said. “We will conduct a thorough search process to select the best head coach for the Hornets moving forward.”

Each of the Hornets’ five current head coach candidates have demonstrated an ability to succeed and elevate their players.

Adelman has been with the Nuggets since 2017 and has climbed the ranks to their lead-assistant position. Fernandez — known for his  sports psychology skills — has been the associate head coach of the Sacramento Kings since 2022.

Lee has served as an assistant for Atlanta, Milwaukee and Boston. Young solidified himself as the highest-paid assistant coach in the league with Phoenix after an initial year in Philadelphia.

The most recent addition to the interview list, Harding would become the NBA’s first-ever female head coach. She won 2024 G League Coach of the Year, advancing to the Western Conference finals in her first season coaching the Stockton Kings.

The next coach of the Hornets will be the team’s 11th in franchise history.