Steve Clifford will become the next coach of the Charlotte Hornets, according to multiple reports, wrapping up an offseason saga in which the team agreed to hire Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson, who reneged, before it circled back to Clifford.
His successor, James Borrego, failed to take the Hornets to the playoffs in four seasons. Charlotte lost to the Atlanta Hawks during this year’s play-in tournament, and Borrego was fired in April.
On June 10, just before Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Hornets agreed to terms on a four-year contract with Atkinson, who has previous head coaching experience with the Brooklyn Nets. A week later, after Golden State won its fourth NBA title in eight years, Atkinson reversed course, opting to return to the Warriors’ bench.
“I think he would have been a good pick, but if he’s not comfortable here I would rather find out now than a year from now,” General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday night, according to the Associated Press.
The Hornets also interviewed longtime coach Mike D’Antoni but reportedly sought a reunion with Clifford based on his relationship with team owner Michael Jordan and the club’s vision for its young, developing roster, which includes all-star guard LaMelo Ball.
Clifford, who went 196-214 during his first stint with the Hornets, led the Orlando Magic from 2018 to 2021 before they parted ways. Considered one of the league’s top defensive coaches, Clifford takes over one of the league’s top scoring teams but one that ranked 22nd in defensive rating.
In Thursday’s draft, Charlotte selected Duke center Mark Williams with the 15th overall selection. It added Nebraska guard Bryce McGowens in the second round.
The Hornets haven’t won a playoff series since 2002.
The Utah Jazz are now the only NBA team with a coaching vacancy.