Steve Clifford To Step Down As Hornets’ Head Coach After Season

10:32am: The Hornets have put out a press release officially confirming the news.

“This is the appropriate time for me to step down,” Clifford said in a statement. “I believe this is best for me and the organization. I’m excited about the future of the Hornets – our young core of players, Jeff’s leadership of our basketball operations and Rick and Gabe’s 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.”

In a statement of his own, Peterson thanked Clifford for his contributions to the franchise and said the search process for a new head coach will begin immediately.

“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.”

9:48am: Hornets head coach Steve Clifford will step down from his current position with the franchise at the conclusion of the 2023/24 regular season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Clifford informed his players and assistants of the plan on Wednesday morning and will coach the team’s final seven games.

According to Wojnarowski, Clifford will likely remain with the organization in a front office role. He and the team are working to finalize the details of that potential transition — Woj suggests there’s a desire from management and ownership to have the 62-year-old serve in an advisory role that would allow him to “impact all parts of the organization.”

With the Hornets under new ownership heading into the 2024 offseason, there was a sense that a head coaching change was possible. Charlotte has already undergone an in-season front office overhaul after head of basketball operations Mitch Kupchak moved into an advisory position. He was replaced by former Nets assistant GM Jeff Peterson, who was named Charlotte’s executive VP of basketball operations.

However, Wojnarowski says that co-owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin were open to the idea of bringing back Clifford. The veteran coach decided that he didn’t want to commit to the “year-round grind” of the job for another year and conveyed his intentions early so that the Hornets can immediately begin searching for his successor.

Kings assistant Jordi Fernandez, Celtics assistant Charles Lee, Heat assistant Chris Quinn, and Suns assistant Kevin Young are among the candidates expected to receive consideration for the permanent job in Charlotte, per Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

Chris Mannix of (Twitter link) singles out Lee as a candidate to watch, noting that there’s been “a lot of chatter in coaching circles” indicating that he’ll be a strong contender to replace Clifford.

Clifford, who also coached Charlotte from 2013-18, had less success in his second stint with the club, posting a 45-112 (.287) record over the past two seasons. Multiple injuries to star point guard LaMelo Ball hamstrung Clifford and the Hornets, as did the domestic violence charges against Miles Bridges, which cost the forward the entire 2022/23 season.

The team entered ’23/24 with postseason aspirations, but essentially threw in the towel following an injury-plagued first half, trading away veterans Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, and P.J. Washington prior to February’s deadline.

The next Hornets’ head coach will take over a retooling club that has a few promising building blocks, including Ball, rookie wing Brandon Miller, and young center Mark Williams. Bridges will be an unrestricted free agent, though the team hopes to re-sign him. Charlotte also currently has the NBA’s fourth-worst record, putting the franchise in position to land a draft pick in the top half of this year’s lottery and add another core piece.

The Wizards and Nets, who have made in-season coaching changes and currently employ interim replacements, are expected to join the Hornets in seeking new head coaches this spring. It’s possible other clubs will join that list in the coming weeks.

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