WEDNESDAY, 1:33pm: The Bobcats have made the hiring of Clifford official, announcing the move in a press release.
"We are excited to have Steve Clifford as our new head coach," said president Rod Higgins in a statement. "He brings a strong pedigree and a track record of success to our franchise. He has built a reputation as an innovator, especially defensively, and has experience in multiple systems. We look forward to utilizing his knowledge as we continue to build this team."
MONDAY, 5:13pm: The Bobcats are set to hire Steve Clifford as their next head coach, league sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports (on Twitter). The Lakers assistant will receive a three-year, $6MM deal with a team option on the third year, according to Sam Amick of USA Today.
The longtime assistant came to L.A. under head coach Mike Brown. Clifford spent most of the last decade working for Jeff and Stan Van Gundy as a defensive specialist before joining up with Brown and the Lakers. He'll now be charged with turning around a woeful Bobcats franchise that is coming off of a 21-61 campaign.
Clifford was also in the mix for the vacant Bucks job. With Clifford out of the running in Milwaukee, the Bucks search will now focus on Larry Drew and Kelvin Sampson, tweets Wojnarowski. Each candidate has second interviews coming up this week.
The Bobcats fired Mike Dunlap last month following just one year at the helm in Charlotte. The former St. John's assistant coach managed to improve upon the club's dreadful .106 winning percentage but rubbed people in the front office the wrong way and found himself at odds with veteran guard Ben Gordon.
Earlier tonight, the Bobcats announced that they have found their man in Lakers assistant Steve Clifford. Whether you like the hire or think that Charlotte should have pursued one of the other candidates like Kelvin Sampson or Alvin Gentry, everyone can agree that Clifford has his work cut out for him. Here's the latest reactions on Charlotte's decision..
- Bill Ingram of HoopsWorld (on Twitter) opines that Clifford is a cheap hire who won't mind losing for two years. He believes that Clifford will wind up being replaced when the team eventually starts winning.
- Clifford's departure from the Lakers marks another shift in which Mike D'Antoni's coaching staff has drastically altered since the end of the season, writes Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News (Sulia link). Assistant Eddie Jordan took the Rutgers job before the NBA playoffs started while D'Antoni let Bernie Bickerstaff and Chuck Person go soon after the Lakers' first-round playoff exit. Lakers players development coach Phil Handy left as well to join Mike Brown's staff in Cleveland.
- Jeff Van Gundy is a big fan of the hire, telling Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer (via Twitter) that Clifford was a no-brainer in the same way that Tom Thibodeau was in Chicago. "This guy has It. When he gets his opportunity, he'll knock it out of the park," said the former coach and co-worker of Clifford (link).
- Quentin Richardson congratulated Clifford via Twitter.
The Bucks' coaching search is now down to three finalists - Hawks coach Larry Drew, Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson, and Lakers assistant Steve Clifford, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Clifford will visit Milwaukee again on Tuesday, and Sampson and Drew on Wednesday for their second interviews, according to league sources.
Bucks GM John Hammond has a stronger history with Sampson thanks to the two years he spent on the Milwaukee staff under Scott Skiles. However, Hammond has been increasingly impressed by Clifford, who comes strongly recommended by the Bulls' Tom Thibodeau and Stan and Jeff Van Gundy.
Sampson had a strong run as the Rockets' interim coach while Kevin McHale had to leave the team and showed that he can handle the pro game. In three seasons in Atlanta, Drew has a 128-102 record and took the club to the playoffs all three years, including the conference semifinals in 2010-11. Drew's contract expires on June 30 with the Hawks, and he's expected to be replaced as coach soon.
While Sampson and Clifford are also strong candidates in Charlotte, each is eager for the opportunity with the Bucks, according to league sources. Milwaukee made the playoffs this season and has a much better overall roster than the Bobcats/Hornets.
In an article he released yesterday, Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram cited that two point guards who interest the Mavericks include Jarrett Jack and the Grizzlies' Jerryd Bayless. The source also said that after the Clippers released Vinny Del Negro, the feeling in Mavs camp is that Chris Paul would likely stay in Los Angeles considering he'd be given significant control over the next coaching hire. With that being said, Dwight Howard continues to be the team's top priority. Here are few more miscellaneous notes from around the league:
- Though the future of Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins still remains uncertain, the impending free agent coach says that he's not worried about an extension or heading elsewhere and is currently focused on the playoffs, "I have a job…I'm happy with where we are and excited about what we're doing. That's my only concern. Everything else is irrelevant" (Teresa M. Walker of NBA.com).
- Erik Spoelstra was pleased about James Jones' decision to not opt out at the end of this year and thus return to the Heat next season, says Chris Tomasson of FOX Sports Florida (Sulia link). Spoelstra: "It's great news…J.J. is a Miami Heat guy. (He and Udonis Haslem), they're special. All of our guys are special in this organization, but they're Miami-bred guys. They're Miami true and blue."
- Ken Berger of CBS Sports tweeted that Jeff Hornacek interviewed with the Bobcats today and that Steve Clifford is headed for his next interview with the Suns, respectively.
- If there's any coach that isn't confident about his team making significant improvements next season, it's definitely not Wizards head coach Randy Wittman, who told CSN Washington: "It doesn't matter with the No. 3 pick. If we could stay healthy and come together as we did last year, have a full season right from the start, we should put ourselves in that (playoff) position…It doesn't matter if we pick eighth, third or 30th" (J. Michael of CSN Washington).
- Keith Schlosser of Ridiculous Upside sheds some light on Mike Singletary (not to be confused with the current NFL assistant coach), who has been making waves for his standout play overseas. The 6'6 swingman, who recently won the NBDL title with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, has been playing for Barako Bull Energy Cola – a PBA team currently participating in a tournament in Dubai. With his solid production in the D-League (10.1 PPG and 4.9 RPG along with 41% shooting from long range in 49 games) and his experience with competitive international play, Schlosser thinks that the next step would involve an NBA summer league invite and is curious to see what kind of opportunities Singletary could find heading up to the start of NBA training camp in the fall.
The Suns just hired a new, young general manager, and now they're onto finding a new coach. The latest has the Rockets granting Phoenix permission to interview their assistant coach, J.B. Bickerstaff, according to a tweet from Yahoo! NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski.
The team has also asked to speak with Lakers assistant Steve Clifford. Los Angeles has granted permission for the interview. Clifford has also interviewed with the Bobcats on Tuesday and the Bucks last Monday, according to InsideSoCal.com's Mark Medina.
The Bobcats will interview Jazz assistant coach Jeff Hornacek by the end of this week, tweets Marc Stein of ESPN.com, adding another name to the list of coaches who are sitting down with Charlotte's brass. Alvin Gentry, Kelvin Sampson and Elston Turner have already interviewed for the job, and according to Stein, Steve Clifford is scheduled to interview Tuesday (Twitter link). The team is also expected to interview Quin Snyder.
Hornacek is set for an interview with the Sixers as well, and is reportedly drawing interest from the Suns and Bucks. His strong relationship with Deron Williams could make him a candidate for the Nets opening, too.
The Bobcats appear to be following the same script as last year, when a drawn-out search involving roughly a dozen candidates took nearly two months to reach a resolution. The team hired college assistant Mike Dunlap in a surprise move, and fired him about a month ago. Many of last year's candidates resurfaced in this year's hunt, including Cavs assistant Nate Tibbetts, who wound up joining Terry Stotts' staff with the Blazers. Another is Brian Shaw, to whom Charlotte has once more been linked. Like last season, the Bobcats would have to wait until after the Pacers' playoff run to speak with him.
We could have a fairly clear idea of the two teams that will play for the Eastern Conference title by the end of tonight. The Heat appear on their way to the conference finals with a 3-1 lead against the Bulls, and the Pacers can take a 3-1 lead of their own with a win at home against the Knicks tonight. Of course, we won't know for sure until later this week at the earliest, but if Indiana wins this evening, most of the on-court intrigue will shift to the Spurs-Warriors series in the West. All five open head coaching jobs are in the East, however, and there's news on that along with other notes from around the conference today:
- The Bobcats are interviewing Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson for their head coaching vacancy today, and they'll meet with Lakers assistant Steve Clifford next week, according to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com (Twitter links). The team has reportedly had interest in both.
- A few days after receiving permission from the Lakers to do so, the Cavs are interviewing L.A. player development coach Phil Handy for a spot on head coach Mike Brown's staff, reports Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports (Twitter link).
- Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com doesn't expect to see resolution on the future of the Celtics soon, suggesting that trade talk involving Paul Pierce could drag on past June 30th, the deadline for Boston to waive Pierce and reduce his cap hit by more than $10MM.
- The Raptors appear headed for tax territory next season, but the arrival of new executive Tim Leiweke indicates that the team is comfortable paying the tax, writes Stephen Brotherston of HoopsWorld.
- Eddie Jordan spent parts of nine seasons as an NBA head coach, six of them with the Wizards, but he tells Michael Lee of The Washington Post he doesn't want another NBA head coaching job, no matter how it goes in his new gig as the coach at Rutgers University.
Earlier today, we passed along the latest developments in the saga that has Sacramento and Seattle investment groups vying to buy the Kings. Here are a few more of today's links relating to Pacific Division clubs:
- Brian Floyd of SBNation.com provides a helpful primer for the Kings situation, answering a number of frequently asked questions about where things stand.
- The Lakers' D-League affiliate has hired former Laker Mark Madsen as the team's new head coach. The L.A. D-Fenders made the move official today (link via Twitter).
- More coaching news for the Lakers: Assistant Steve Clifford is interviewing today for the Bucks' head coaching opening, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. According to Wojnarowski, Stan Van Gundy declined to interview for the position, but recommend Clifford to Bucks GM John Hammond.
- Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com explains why it doesn't make much sense for the Lakers to consider a sign-and-trade of Dwight Howard.
6:21pm: Stan Van Gundy is also in Milwaukee to interview with the Bucks, tweets Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times.
2:08pm: Yesterday, we heard that ex-Blazers head coach Nate McMillan and current Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson were the first two candidates to interview for the Bucks' head coach opening. Today, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports adds another name to the list of interviewees, reporting that J.B. Bickerstaff, Sampson's fellow assistant in Houston, is meeting with the Bucks today.
Although we hadn't heard much buzz about Bickerstaff before this month, the Rockets assistant appears to be drawing plenty of interest lately. Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 Twin Cities reported a week ago that Bickerstaff would receive consideration if Flip Saunders eventually decided to bring in his own coach in Minnesota, but it seem as if another team could beat the Timberwolves to him. Bickerstaff also interviewed for the Pistons' head coach position this week, and Wojnarowski reports that he's likely to be among the Suns' candidates as well.
The Bucks, who are reportedly prioritizing "strong-willed" candidates who can control a locker room, are also expected to interview Lakers assistant Steve Clifford in the near future, says Wojnarowski.
According to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, the Bucks have been prioritizing "strong-willed" candidates as they search for a head coach to replace ousted interim coach Jim Boylan. In his latest piece, Berger sheds some light on one reason for that requirement and touches on a couple other Bucks notes. Let's check out the highlights….
- Berger reports that Monta Ellis and Larry Sanders nearly came to blows in the locker room following the Bucks' Game Three loss to the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. According to Berger, Sanders called out the team for selfish play, saying that the Bucks needed "to start playing together as a team and stop worrying about next year."
- Ellis "took umbrage" with Sanders' comments, rightly assuming that they were aimed at him and fellow free-agent-to-be Brandon Jennings, according to Berger. Both Ellis and Jennings are likely to test the free agent market this summer, and reports have suggested that Milwaukee won't necessarily be either player's first choice.
- A member of the Sacramento group attempting to keep the Kings in the city has done some research on Ellis as a potential target if the team parts ways with Tyreke Evans, a source tells Berger.
- Berger notes that Nate McMillan and Kelvin Sampson have interviewed for the Bucks' head coaching job so far, and adds that the team is expected to reach out to Stan Van Gundy and Steve Clifford as well. Berger had reported both of those names previously, though last week he suggested Van Gundy would interview for the job, whereas now that doesn't seem quite so certain. Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times has indicated Van Gundy is unlikely to end up in Milwaukee.