Charlotte Hornets: Steve Clifford, Best Coach For The Job

Apr 11, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford during a timeout in the second half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 11, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford during a timeout in the second half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

In only three seasons Steve Clifford has become one of the best head coaches in the NBA and he is the right man for the job with the Charlotte Hornets.

This summer, like many summers past, a new season approaches for the Charlotte Hornets. A season baring new hopes, new dreams, new expectations and building off of last season’s success. Yet, as new pieces join the team and new foundations are set, more than a few things are overlooked. Like the true love of fans, the continuity of the returning players and one of the most overlooked things, the coaches.

Throughout time, every team in professional sports has been mostly classified based on its players as well as the successes of the team. From the legendary Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 90’s to the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty of the 2000’s, the Green Bay Packers of the 60’s to the Dallas Cowboys of the 90’s and the 1930’s and 1950’s New York Yankees have all been teams with extraordinary feats. And some fans only remember the players of those great teams, but what about the outstanding coaches that helped lead each team to victory? On a collegiate level, North Carolina has seen its share of great basketball coaches, names such as Dean Smith, Roy Williams and Mike (Coach K) Krzyzewski.

For the Charlotte Hornets, the lack of a solid head coach weighed heavily in the minds of its hometown fans who have never blessed with a dynasty team of its own. With some wanting to spend money on the highest salary (player or coach) candidate available, the hopes of many have been to stabilize the leadership, trade a multitude for a single star or rebuild the team from scratch again. However, the coaching situation has taken quite a positive turn in recent years.

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The arrival of the Steve Clifford Era has proved fruitful for the current age of Charlotte Hornets, after a struggle in the beginning, has become one of the best coach-team fits in the NBA. Clifford, a protégé of both Jeff Van Gundy and Stan Van Gundy was an assistant for the brothers while earning a reputation as a defensive expert. With stops in New York, Houston, Orlando and Los Angeles, Clifford had one year of advance scout experience and 12-years of assistant coaching experience in the NBA before earning his head coaching job in Charlotte.

However, in the beginning stages of the relationship between Coach Clifford and Charlotte, many fans exhausted every avenue to call for a coaching change. Yet, team owner Michael Jordan and Charlotte persevered and stayed loyal to its respected coach. And in time, loyalty would was rewarded in the form of two playoff appearances in three years, the development of young talents and contributing to the re-signing of not one, but two highly sought after free agents in Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams. Because of his trust, play style and respect with each player.

And to the surprise and/or joy of many, the rise of Buzz city also concluded in a 3-year extension for Clifford. Here’s a small clip of general manager Rich Cho commenting on Coach Clifford’s extension, courtesy of The Charlotte Observer:

Quite frankly, much could be said about the work that Steve Clifford has done, and he remains an undervalued cog in Charlotte’s machine. But where does he stand in terms of Charlotte’s best NBA coaches? Here’s a quick look at six of the best:

Coach NameYearsGames CoachedWinsLosesWin %
Allan Bristow91′-96′4102072030.505
Dave Cowens97′-99′179109700.608
Paul Silas99′-02′, 10′-12′4011932080.481
Bernie Bickerstaff04′-07′246771690.313
Larry Brown08′-10′192881040.458
Steve Clifford13′- Present2461241220.504
Most Games CoachedGamesMost Wins CoachedGamesBest Winning %Percentage
Allan Bristow410Allan Bristow207Dave Cowens0.609
Paul Silas401Paul Silas193Allan Bristow0.505
Steve Clifford246Steve Clifford124Steve Clifford0.504
Bernie Bickerstaff246Dave Cowens109Paul Silas0.481
Larry Brown192Larry Brown88Larry Brown0.458

Now, as shown above, Steve Clifford is number three in most games coached, most wins coached and winning percentage. Though the history of the Hornets is a short one, being third on any list is no small feat. After three years and 246 games in Charlotte, Coach Clifford is averaging 41.3 wins per year with a winning percentage of 50.4%.

Only Allan Bristow surpasses him with a 41.4 wins per year average and a winning percentage of 50.5%, and Bristow served as head coach for 5 seasons. However, through the first three seasons, Allan Bristow combined for 116 wins while Clifford combined for 124. Did I fail to mention that during the span of three years, the best three players for each coach were Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning for Bristow and Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson for Clifford. Not too shabby for a defensive minded coach, right?

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The only other coach with a better winning percentage than both previously mentioned coaches is Dave Cowens. Cowens, who served as coach for two seasons plus, enjoyed two stellar season with 50+ wins before going 4-11 in a season hampered by injuries. After 15 games in a 1999 season shortened by a 4-month lockout, the Hornets released Cowens and replaced him with Paul Silas, effectively ending his time in Charlotte. Cowens would later become the head coach for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors for a short time as well as the WNBA’s Chicago Sky.

Currently, the Hornet’s present-day coach has the opportunity to surpass his predecessors. With opportunity, more hard work and following the current path that he has laid out, Clifford’s star is becoming brighter and brighter. As he invests his all into the Charlotte team, the organization and its fans continue to invest in him. The players have already all gravitated toward the respected coach, and many of whom have gone on record multiple times crediting Clifford with much of the team’s success.

Next: Is DeMarcus Cousins the Hero Charlotte Needs?

Though much goes into making a good coach, wins and losses don’t define what a good coach is by any means. The hard work, intelligence, developing assets, utilizing those assets, building consistency between players and countless other things all contribute to being a good and great coach, and all are qualities that our head coach has. So what’s next for the beloved coach? Can he continue to climb the ranks of Charlotte’s coaching leaders?