Sources say Steve Clifford has agreed to return as Charlotte Hornets coach

Steve Clifford has agreed to a deal to become the Charlotte Hornets coach, returning for the second time in the role, sources told ESPN on Friday.

Clifford, who led the franchise to two playoff appearances over five years that ended in 2018, is back in the wake of Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson changing his mind about accepting Charlotte’s job and deciding instead to stay with the Warriors.

Clifford has always had a solid working relationship with Hornets owner Michael Jordan and fits Jordan’s profile and general manager Mitch Kupchak for this young, growing roster: a coach who can improve them defensively and turn them into an accessory team. Clifford is highly regarded among his peers in coaching and is respected for maximizing the talent on his roster in both Charlotte and Orlando.

Sources said Clifford met with ownership and management in recent days and momentum quickly gathered when he was nominated for a comeback.

Sources said the Hornets family are looking down on Mike D’Antoni, who recently gave an interview to Jordan.

Clifford is considered one of the best defensive coaches in the NBA for a long time, and he will be tasked with improving this end of the field for a Charlotte team that has finished among the top ten NBA teams in the defensive rankings for three of the past four seasons – including 23rd. 2021-22.

In his five seasons with the Hornets, Charlotte’s defense ranked in the top ten three times. His defenses ranked eighth and eleventh in two of his three seasons as a magic coach.

Charlotte finished last season with the eighth attack in the NBA, and she has plenty of firepower at the end of the field between All-Star guard Lamelo Paul, restricted free striker Miles Bridges, guard Terry Roser and forward Gordon Hayward, among others.

The reunion between Clifford and the Hornets comes after the team initially agreed to a deal with Atkinson to replace James Borrego, who was sacked in April after four seasons.

Clifford, 60, went from 196 to 214 over five seasons during his first stint with the franchise, which saw him lead the Hornets to his best record since returning to the NBA in 2004 as an expansion team when he went 48-34 in 2016. The Hornets lost in The first round of the playoffs against the Miami Heat in seven games that year.

He has led Charlotte to two of three playoff games in the 18 seasons since her return to the league. Clifford’s 196 wins are the second in franchise history after Alan Bristow, who coached the team in the early and mid-1990s. Clifford is associated with Bristow for most of the coached games in franchise history.

After Clifford was fired by Charlotte in 2018, he was hired a few weeks later by the Magic, who coached him for three years – including back-to-back playoffs in his first two seasons – before the two agreed to separate. After the 21-61 campaign in 2020-21. He spent last season in an advisory role to Steve Nash with the Brooklyn Nets.

Clifford began his career as a coach at various colleges in the Northeast, then worked as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Magic and Los Angeles Lakers before being hired by the Hornets in 2013 in his first job as head coach. .

Clifford has agreed to coach the Hornets leaving one team – the Utah Jazz – without a head coach for next season, after long-time coach Quinn Snyder decided to walk away from the team earlier this month.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.

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