Steve Clifford

Pacers Fire Head Coach Nate Bjorkgren

12:15pm: The Pacers have officially announced in a press release that Bjorkgren won’t be retained for the 2021/22 season.

“The 2020/21 season was not what any of us hoped or anticipated it would be, and our results on the court certainly did not meet the standards for what our organization and our fans have come to expect,” Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said in a statement.

“We have determined this is the right time to move in a different direction, and on behalf of the Simon Family and the entire Pacers organization, I want to express my gratitude to Nate for his efforts leading our team. While we do not have a definite timetable for our search, we will move quickly to identify candidates who will make our team and our organization stronger.”

10:56am: The Pacers have decided to part ways with head coach Nate Bjorkgren after his first year on the job, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

According to Wojnarowski (Twitter link), Bjorkgren was informed today of the Pacers’ decision to let him go after he met with management on Tuesday. The team intends to seek out a more experienced, established head coach to replace Bjorkgren, who lost the locker room and “much of the organization” this season, Wojnarowski adds.

The Pacers moved on from Nate McMillan a year ago after a fourth consecutive first-round playoff exit in the hopes of hiring a new coach who would modernize the team’s offense and increase its ceiling. Although Bjorkgren did help improve Indiana’s offense, the defense took a major step backward and the former Raptors assistant reportedly had major communication issues with players and coaches alike.

Multiple reports during the final weeks of the regular season indicated that Bjorkgren was on the hot seat, and failing to secure a playoff spot in the play-in tournament presumably didn’t help his chances of sticking around.

Given how many injuries the Pacers dealt with during the 2020/21 campaign, it’s unclear how much more another coach could’ve gotten out of the roster. And since Bjorkgren had one more guaranteed year on his contract, there was a belief that the small-market Pacers may prefer to give him another chance rather than having to commit financially to a second head coaching contract. However, it sounds like the issues with Bjorkgren were too widespread to make continuing the relationship a viable choice.

Indiana becomes the fourth team to enter the market for a new head coach this spring, joining Boston, Portland, and Orlando. Because they conducted an extensive search for a coach in 2020 before landing on Bjorkgren, the Pacers may already have a leg up in this year’s search, having gotten familiar with several candidates who could be on their radar again. However, new candidates will be considered as well.

[RELATED: 2021 NBA Head Coaching Search Tracker]

One of those new candidates, who wasn’t available a year ago, is former Blazers coach Terry Stotts. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reports (via Twitter) that the Pacers are expected to take a look at Stotts, while Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report says (via Twitter) league sources have increasingly identified Stotts as a leading candidate for the job in Indiana. Josh Robbins of The Athletic previously reported that league sources expect the Pacers to interview Steve Clifford following his exit from Orlando.

As for Bjorkgren’s future, Josh Lewenberg of tweets that he wouldn’t be surprised if Nick Nurse‘s former assistant – and good friend – ends up returning to Toronto. The Raptors lost a top assistant midway through the 2020/21 season when Chris Finch was hired as Minnesota’s head coach, and Nurse strongly defended Bjorkgren amidst last month’s negative reports.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steve Clifford Will Not Return As Magic Coach

12:10pm: The team has confirmed the decision via a press release. The statement suggests Clifford may pursue other head coaching opportunities.

“We would like to thank Steve for his contributions to the Orlando Magic,” Weltman said. “We appreciate the many sacrifices he has made as our head coach and understand the timeline of our new path does not align with his goals as a head coach in our league.”

11:45am: The Magic and coach Steve Clifford have mutually agreed to part ways, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets.

Clifford has met with management multiple times over recent weeks and the two sides ultimately agreed to move on. Clifford guided the Magic into the playoffs in his first two seasons with a core group that included Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier.

Those players were shipped away at the trade deadline as the organization went into full rebuild mode. A season-ending injury to point guard Markelle Fultz began the chain of events that convinced the front office to hit the reset button.

Clifford compiled a 96-131 regular-season record with the club. Management will obviously be seeking a head coach who can develop young talent and stay patient through the process.

Clifford, 59, coached Charlotte for five seasons before he was hired by the Magic. He had one year left on his contract.

Orlando joins Portland and Boston as teams seeking new head coaches. According to Marc Stein of the New York Times (Twitter link), the Magic are interested in Terry Stotts, who parted ways with the Trail Blazers on Friday.

The recent talks between Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and Clifford centered on the veteran coach’s long-term future with the franchise.

Orlando’s management was pleased with Clifford and his coaching staff and discussed the possibility of a contract extension, Josh Robbins of The Athletic reports. But with the Magic in the early stages of a rebuild, Clifford wasn’t ready to commit to a longer deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Southeast Notes: Hornets, Heat, Theis, Clifford

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak recently discussed a variety of topics related to his team, including free agency, head coach James Borrego, LaMelo Ball and more.

Charlotte (33-39) managed to reach the play-in tournament despite coping with several injuries this season, but lost to Indiana by a score of 144-117. Still, Kupchak believes the Hornets are on the rise and should appeal to free agents this summer.

“I think free agents around the league look at the pace we play, and players want to play that way. I think we have a player’s coach,” Kupchak said, as relayed by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. “And if (free agents) remember why (Ball) is so much fun to play with — his ability to pass — I don’t know why players wouldn’t want to come here to play with him.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

Injury Notes: Ingram, Vucevic, LeBron, Magic

An MRI has revealed that Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram suffered a left low-ankle sprain during the team’s 108-103 victory over the Warriors on Tuesday, the team has announced via Twitter. Ingram is set to miss Friday night’s contest against the Sixers and is considered day-to-day with the injury beyond that.

Losing Ingram, the club’s second-leading scorer behind All-Star forward Zion Williamson, could be a major blow for New Orleans as the team strives to qualify for the play-in tournament in a crowded Western Conference field. With a 30-36 record, the Pelicans currently sit just two games behind the Spurs for a shot at the play-in tournament in the West this season.

There’s more injury news from around the league:

  • Bulls All-Star center Nikola Vučević (adductor) was able to fully participate in a team practice today, tweets K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Head coach Billy Donovan commented that the sharp-shooting big man, who has missed the club’s last two games, “looked fine.”
  • Lakers All-Star forward LeBron James will miss at least the next two games and potentially more as he grapples with fresh, sharp pain in his sprained ankle, Dave McMenamin told Rachel Nichols and Richard Jefferson on ESPN’s The Jump (Twitter video link). A source informed McMenamin that James is “focusing on the big picture” right now. “Does ‘big picture’ mean two more games missed? I’m not so sure,” McMenamin said. “He is clearly prioritizing using every bit of time he can to… get back for the playoffs.”
  • Magic head coach Steve Clifford has indicated that five injured players could miss the rest of the 2020/21 NBA season, tweets Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams and power forward Chuma Okeke are both sidelined with ankle sprains. Wing James Ennis is unavailable with a sore calf. Injury-prone forward Otto Porter Jr., who has played in just 28 games this season for the Magic and Bulls, is struggling with foot pain. Swingman Terrence Ross has been felled by back spasms. “I don’t even know what the time frame [is],” Clifford conceded. “If you look at the schedule now, it’s seven games, I think it’d be 12 days, and I’m not sure even if any of those guys are that close, to be honest with you.”

Magic’s Steve Clifford Cleared To Return On Wednesday

Magic head coach Steve Clifford, who has been in the NBA’s health and safety protocols for over a week, has been cleared and is on track to coach the team on Wednesday vs. Boston, the team announced today (via Twitter).

We heard back on April 24 that Clifford had registered a positive test for COVID-19. However, he had just received his second vaccination shot and reportedly didn’t experience any symptoms following his diagnosis. Despite not feeling ill, Clifford had to clear the league’s protocols before being given the go-ahead to be around the Magic again.

Clifford has missed five games so far and also won’t be available for Monday’s game against the Pistons, since the team has already traveled to Detroit for that contest. He’ll be ready to go when the Magic return home to host the Celtics on Wednesday.

In Clifford’s absence, Tyrone Corbin temporarily took the reins as Orlando’s acting head coach. He has led the team to a 2-3 record so far, with wins over Cleveland and Memphis.

Southeast Notes: Hornets’ Centers, Ball, Oladipo, Clifford

James Borrego isn’t satisfied with his options at center and he hasn’t been since he took over as Hornets coach three years ago, writes Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo, P.J. Washington and Vernon Carey have all seen time in middle this season, but none of them has been outstanding. Washington will probably be the starter for the rest of the season, Bonnell adds, but he’s a natural power forward at 6-7 and likely isn’t the long-term answer.

“Every night I’m just trying to figure it out with that group. It’s been like that for three years,” Borrego said after watching his team get outrebounded 54-33 in a loss to the Celtics this week. “It may be another three years that we continue to look like that, actually. … Just trying to piece it together.”

General manager Mitch Kupchak was interested in James Wiseman in last year’s draft, but the Warriors grabbed him with the second pick. Charlotte may not be in the lottery this year, but the club will have about $30MM in cap room when free agency begins. Bonnell suggests targeting Kings center Richaun Holmes or trying to trade for Pacers center Myles Turner.

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • With LaMelo Ball returning tonight from a fractured wrist, Nekias Duncan of Basketball News examines how the Hornets‘ dynamic rookie impacts the game through play-making, scoring and defense.
  • Heat guard Victor Oladipo may be getting closer to playing, even though he didn’t accompany the team on its weekend road trip, tweets Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. Oladipo hasn’t played since hurting his knee in an April 8 game, and the team hasn’t provided much information about a possible return. However, coach Erik Spoelstra said Oladipo is “making progress,” according to a tweet from the team. Tyler Herro, who continues to have issues with his injured foot, missed the road trip as well, notes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald (via Twitter).
  • Magic head coach Steve Clifford continues to be sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, but acting coach Tyrone Corbin said Clifford “feels great,” tweets Roy Parry of The Orlando Sentinel. Corbin said Clifford is still not showing any symptoms of the virus and his oxygen numbers remain good.

Eastern Notes: Love, Hornets, Clifford, Bulls

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love apologized to his team after committing a turnover out of frustration during Monday night’s game that led to an easy Raptors three-pointer, writes Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Love, who was upset about a non-call, angrily swatted at the ball when a referee threw it to him to inbound — that swat put the ball in play, where it was snatched up by Raptors forward Stanley Johnson, leading to a Malachi Flynn three (video link).

It was a childish outburst from a player who is ostensibly one of the Cavaliers’ veteran leaders, contends Chris Fedor of According to Haynes, the club intends to handle the matter internally and may fine Love, though Jason Lloyd of The Athletic suggests a one-game suspension might be a more appropriate penalty.

Haynes writes that the incident – which isn’t the first time that the former All-Star has expressed frustration with his in-game actions – will lead to questions about whether Love’s time in Cleveland may come to an end this offseason, and Lloyd also wonders if the two sides should discuss parting ways. However, Love still has two years left on his contract after this season, and the $60MM in guaranteed money left on that deal will make it challenging for the Cavaliers to find a favorable trade.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

Health Updates: Rockets, Nance, Cavs, Hachimura, Clifford

After missing the Rockets‘ last three games while in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, second-year wing Kevin Porter Jr. has rejoined the team and will be ready to play on Tuesday, head coach Stephen Silas said today (Twitter link via Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston).

Rockets big man Christian Wood, who missed Saturday’s game with a minor ankle injury, is also in position to return on Tuesday, Silas said (Twitter link via Berman). The team should get further reinforcements prior to the end of the season, according to Silas, who expressed optimism that D.J. Augustin (ankle), Sterling Brown (knee), and Eric Gordon (groin) will also be back in the coming weeks.

Here are a few more health-related updates from around the NBA:

  • Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr., who injured his right thumb on Sunday, has been diagnosed with a fracture in that thumb, according to a team press release. Nance has been ruled out for Monday’s game vs. Toronto and will be re-evaluated daily as he undergoes treatment and rehab. Sources tell Chris Fedor of that Nance will probably miss at least a week or two. With less than three weeks left in the regular season, there’s no guarantee we’ll see him again in 2020/21.
  • Within the same release, the Cavaliers provided updates on several more players, announcing that Matthew Dellavedova (neck strain), Isaiah Hartenstein (concussion symptoms), and Lamar Stevens (concussion symptoms) have also hit the injured list and will miss tonight’s game.
  • Wizards forward Rui Hachimura (knee) is set to return on Monday after missing the last four games, the team announced (via Twitter).
  • Magic head coach Steve Clifford, who registered a positive COVID-19 test, will remain out for Monday’s game vs. the Lakers, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic, who tweets that Tyrone Corbin will once again act as the club’s interim head coach. Clifford continues to be asymptomatic, Robbins notes.

Steve Clifford Could Miss Several Games

Magic coach Steve Clifford will miss tonight’s game against the Pacers after mixed results in his recent COVID-19 tests, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Clifford may be away from the team for multiple games while he remains under the league’s health and safety protocols, Woj adds.

Assistant coach Tyrone Corbin will take over the team until Clifford returns (Twitter link). Corbin has head coaching experience with the Jazz and Kings and owns a 119-167 career record.

Clifford told reporters Saturday night that his coronavirus test on Thursday came back positive. He submitted two negative tests on Friday, but had another positive result on Saturday morning. He was tested again last night and is scheduled to undergo another today.

Clifford added that he feels fine and isn’t exhibiting any symptoms of the virus. He said the team has been in an enhanced protocol since an official tested positive after Tuesday’s game against the Hawks.

The 59-year-old coach got his second dose of the Moderna vaccine on Thursday, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. However, he won’t be considered “fully vaccinated” until two weeks after his final shot, according to guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I feel comfortable that I’m not really in danger,” Clifford said. “That with the fact that my temperature, my oxidation numbers, how I feel, I have no side effects right now, I’m very comfortable with that.”

Magic Coach Steve Clifford Tests Positive For COVID-19

7:11pm: Clifford held a Zoom call with reporters tonight, saying he has no COVID-19 symptoms and feels fine, tweets Josh Robbins of The Athletic. Clifford said he had a positive test Thursday night, followed by two negative tests Friday and another positive this morning. He underwent another test today and will be tested again Sunday morning.

Clifford added that one of the officials from Tuesday’s game in Atlanta tested positive for the virus, which put the Magic in an enhanced protocol (Twitter link). Assistant coach Tyrone Corbin would take over if Clifford isn’t cleared to coach Sunday (Twitter link).

“I don’t see a way that I coach tomorrow night. Monday, maybe,” Clifford said. “Then I guess if all these tests are negative it could be a chance by the time we go on the road.” (Twitter link)

5:40pm: Magic head coach Steve Clifford has returned a positive COVID-19 test, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. Sources tell Charania that Clifford has received his first vaccine and is considered asymptomatic, and there’s hope that the test result is a false positive.

The Magic canceled today’s practice, according to Roy Parry of The Orlando Sentinel (Twitter link), but a team official said they are hopeful they can play Sunday’s game against the Pacers.

Results of the test are considered inconclusive, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Clifford could be cleared to coach tomorrow night if he tests negative two times before the game begins.

Clifford, 59, is in his third season as head coach in Orlando.