In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, coach Steve Clifford describes himself as “really optimistic” as he prepares for his second season since returning to the Hornets. Clifford had a full offseason to get ready for the upcoming campaign, unlike last year when everything felt rushed as he got hired shortly after the draft.
Clifford is particularly encouraged by the level of commitment he saw during the summer, with as many as 13 players showing up for optional workouts last month. Veterans Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward had a hand in organizing those sessions, which Clifford believes will set the tone for training camp.
“Terry, Gordon, they were great,” Clifford said. “They kind of set the whole thing up. When we do the drills — because you are limited to what you can do — they are the first guys in. So I really feel like we got a lot out of September.
Charlotte was just 27-55 in Clifford’s first year back with the team, but the season was derailed by injuries to key players and the suspension of Miles Bridges. Clifford has a much healthier roster heading into camp and hopes to fully instill his vision for the team, which involves an up-tempo approach and stresses good decision making with the ball. He points out that the Hornets ranked eighth in transition opportunities a year ago, but only 27th in efficiency.
“This team was built to run, and so last year we actually did a good job in terms of our pace, getting the ball up and down the floor,” he said. “But we were inefficient in the first eight seconds of the clock.”
Clifford touches on a few other topics in the interview:
On Bridges’ performance after being out of the league for an entire year:
“I thought he’d be a lot further behind, But he’s obviously spent a lot of time in the gym. You can see it when he works out. I think his individual skills and stuff are good and he’s on it, but also playing. He was in a lot better shape and everything. So he’s already getting back to where he was. And we still have training camp and then we have to have a good plan for him through the first 10 games (as his suspension continues). But he’s put himself in a good spot.”
On second overall pick Brandon Miller and how he’s fitting in with his teammates:
“They like playing with him already just because to me it’s his decision-making. To me, everything makes sense when you watch him. And he can really shoot. But he can really pass. He knows how to play without the ball. He’s been coached. He plays in a way that helps his teammates play better. So even in pickup games, the ball moves quickly. He knows who he’s on the floor with, where they want the ball and he’s a very quick learner. So he’s also coming off the mono. His Summer League, he wasn’t quite back to full strength. He’s done a good job in the weight room. He’s gained a lot of that weight back and you can tell he’s getting more and more confident here as we get through September.”
On the importance of having Cody Martin back after missing almost all of last season because of knee issues:
“Yeah, look guys like him, there’s just not many of them. Tough-minded, very smart player, plays well at both ends of the floor. He’s a winning-type player. He’s a throwback. He’s got great toughness and his teammates love him when he’s on the floor. So, obviously we miss him, we missed him last year. He’s worked really hard all summer to get ready, and I think he does feel a lot better about where he’s at right now. We just have to be smart because he’s had a couple times where he felt good and then we’d have a setback. So, we’ve got a great performance staff here and they are all over it and we just hope for the best.”