On the job since only Monday, new Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak wasted little time in making changes, firing Coach Steve Clifford on Friday after five seasons and two playoff berths.
Charlotte went 36-46 this season, missing the postseason for a second straight year despite a veteran roster and a payroll that ranked in the top half of the NBA, according to the Charlotte Observer. Clifford, who missed 5 1/2 weeks of the season while receiving treatment for severe headaches related to sleep deprivation, seemed to sense that his job was in jeopardy during a news conference Wednesday.
“I don’t have my head in the sand [as far as] what this head-coaching is all about,” Clifford said, again per the Observer. “I don’t care how many years you have left on your contract. You can get fired in one week in this league.”
Clifford could become a candidate for other teams that will be pursuing new coaches, including the Magic, Knicks, Suns, Bucks and Grizzlies, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. He served as an assistant in Orlando and New York before obtaining his first NBA head coaching job with the Hornets.
Knicks looking down a level?
The Post’s Tim Bontemps had the news early Thursday that New York had fired Jeff Hornacek after two bad seasons. Former Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale and former Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson could be in the mix to replace Hornacek, while the New York Daily News says the team has a much more intriguing candidate in mind: Villanova Coach Jay Wright.
“According to a source close to the club, Knicks management believes Wright would be a perfect candidate for a rebuilding club,” Frank Isola wrote Thursday. “Wright, who has won two national championships over the last three years, has been linked to NBA jobs in the past but has never given any indication he wants to leave Villanova.”
Wright, whom Isola says is in Rome awaiting an audience with Pope Francis, has said in the past that he’s been intrigued by the possibility of an NBA job but that he’s quite happy where he is.
Wright could be a hot commodity elsewhere this offseason as well, according to Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler:
Other candidates for the job, according to Isola, include Clippers Coach Doc Rivers (though David Aldridge reports that he’s staying put); former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse, now head coach of the Toronto Raptors’ G League team; Craig Robinson, brother of former first lady Michelle Obama and current Knicks executive; Jeff Van Gundy, who coached the Knicks for seven seasons from 1995 to 2002; and David Blatt, who had a short stint coaching LeBron James in Cleveland and now is coaching in Turkey.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday that the Orlando Magic has fired Frank Vogel after two seasons and a 54-110 record. The Magic will be looking for its fifth coach since firing Stan Van Gundy after the 2011-12 season, which also was the last time it made the playoffs.
Stackhouse, Raptors assistant Nick Nurse, Spurs assistants James Borrego and Ime Udoka, Blazers assistant David Vanterpool and Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov could be candidates to replace Vogel, according to Wojnarowski. Both Stackhouse — whose G League team is in search of its second straight league championship — and Nurse worked with Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman when he was an executive with the Toronto Raptors and could be considered the leading contenders. Fizdale, former New Orleans Hornets coach and former Magic player Monty Williams, and current Charlotte Hornets coach and former Magic assistant coach Steve Clifford also could be in the mix, according to the Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins.
Vogel didn’t get any breaks this season, as Magic players combined to miss a combined 227 games because of injuries or illness, and a 4-27 record from Nov. 11 to Jan. 12 sent Orlando careening back to the draft lottery.
Rivers, Joerger staying put?
Along with Rivers remaining with the Clippers, the Kings plan to retain Coach Dave Joerger for a third season despite a 59-105 record over his first two, according to Aldridge.
Sacramento has missed the playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons, now the NBA’s longest active streak, but team officials apparently have faith that Joerger can get the Kings’ promising young players headed in the right direction.