Clifford to step down as Hornets HC after season

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Steve Clifford is stepping down as the Charlotte Hornets’ coach at the end of the season and is expected to move into a front office role with the franchise.

The Hornets announced that Clifford will coach their final seven games, beginning Wednesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. Clifford informed his assistants and players of the news Wednesday morning, sources said.

Charlotte’s new executive vice president of basketball operations Jeff Peterson and co-owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin were open to bringing him back as coach next season, but Clifford, 62, decided he wasn’t prepared to commit to the year-round grind of head coaching for the 2024-2025 season, sources said.

Clifford didn’t want to hinder the franchise’s ability to compete for the top coaches available in the marketplace, and it allows the Hornets to begin an immediate search for his successor, sources said.

“This is the appropriate time for me to step down,” Clifford said in a statement released by the team. “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.”

The Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards — who both have interim head coaches — are expected to join the Hornets in coaching searches in the offseason.

Sources told ESPN that Boston’s Charles Lee, Sacramento’s Jordi Fernandez, Miami’s Chris Quinn, Phoenix’s Kevin Young and others are among the league’s assistant coaching candidates expected to be considered in the Charlotte process.

The Hornets job becomes more appealing with the emergence of No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller as a future star in the league, and a core of young players and arsenal of future first-round picks to build out a roster.

The Hornets have been beset with injuries and absences in Clifford’s return to Charlotte over the past two seasons. All-Star guard LaMelo Ball played only 22 games before being shut down for the season.

The Hornets (18-57) had the NBA’s third-most missed games because of injuries this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Ball played only 58 games for Clifford in the past two seasons.

Peterson, who worked with Clifford in Brooklyn, and ownership are eager to create an adviser position that would allow Clifford to remain in Charlotte and impact all parts of the organization, sources said. Those details are expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, sources said.

“Dating back to our time together in Brooklyn, I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for Coach Cliff, and I understand his decision to step down,” Peterson said in a statement. “His basketball knowledge, teaching ability and work ethic are well-respected throughout the NBA. He has had to endure some very difficult circumstances the past two years, and yet our players have continued to compete, work hard and develop. On behalf of the entire Hornets organization, I want to thank Steve for all his efforts, and we look forward to having him remain a part of the organization.

“While Steve will continue to coach the team for the remainder of the season, we will immediately begin the search process for our next head coach. 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. We will conduct a thorough search process to select the best head coach for the Hornets moving forward.”

In 10 seasons with Charlotte and Orlando as a head coach, Clifford is 337-457 with four trips to the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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