Firing of Jacque Vaughn a reminder of coach’s mortality, Clifford safe?

New York Knicks v Charlotte Hornets
New York Knicks v Charlotte Hornets / Jared C. Tilton/GettyImages

The Monday morning after the All-Star game is usually a pretty quiet time in the NBA, but not this season as word came out shortly after 10 am EST, that the Brooklyn Nets were dismissing head coach Jacque Vaughn.

Vaughn has hardly proven he’s a great coach or anything like that, but since taking over the Nets early last season he’s gone 64-67 as head coach. Granted most of the wins came early last season before trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

The Nets are 21-33 this season, sitting in 11th place; 2.5 games out of the last play-in spot. But they started the season 15-15 and have gone 6-18 ever since, including back-to-back losses before the all-star break to Boston, the final one coming by 50 points.

I’m not saying Vaughn was necessarily the right coach for the Nets, but their issues are much more based on roster construction than anything Vaughn is doing on the court. He can’t make their collection of misfit role players play better, so he has become the scapegoat (for now).

Impact on the Hornets and Steve Clifford

Vaughn marks the third head coaching change this season, and he surely won’t be the last. It’s not easy to stick around as a head coach in this league, and it begs the question, how much time does Steve Clifford have in Charlotte?

Much like in Brooklyn, the Hornets' problem is not coaching, it’s the personnel and their availability. Red Auerbach couldn’t have had the Hornets in the playoff mix this year with this roster and these injuries.

But now in his second tenure with Charlotte these past two seasons, the team has gone 40-96 under Cliff. Regardless of personnel, it’s tough to keep a job with that record. He was brought in to fix the defense, and that unit has consistently been one of the worst in the league.

Add that to the fact that new owners have come in this season, and they are currently looking to bring in a new GM and President of Basketball Operations, and Clifford’s time may be running out. 

It’s hardly any fault of his own, and Clifford can clearly coach basketball, but new owners almost always want to bring in their own guys. We are already seeing that process begin with the front office, and the new front office will almost surely want to hire its own coaching staff.

That’s kind of just the way it goes in the NBA, and having those guys brought in together, on the same page is usually the best way to run a team. It leads me to believe Clifford is likely all but a lame-duck coach at this point.

His job is likely safe for the rest of this season, as there’s no point in making a change now; Clifford is a reliable veteran coach who can keep this young team in line for the interim. I’m also excited to see what he can do with all the new players, and finally having some guys who want to play defense. 

We’ve already seen some promising early returns with the team going 3-0 in their last three, so maybe Cliff can do enough down the stretch to keep his job for next season. He deserves that chance at least, to see what he can do with a full-strength roster.

But it’s likely only a matter of time until the new front office comes in, and along with ownership finds a young coach to lead the next era of Hornets basketball, and to kick off the rebuild that’s just beginning. There’s not much coach Clifford could have done, it’s just the harsh reality of this business.