Steve Clifford offers fascinating soundbite on young draft picks and their coaches

Feb 23, 2024; San Francisco, California, USA; Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford talks to media
Feb 23, 2024; San Francisco, California, USA; Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford talks to media / Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Say what you will about Hornets’ head coach Steve Clifford, but the man has been around the NBA for a long time and he knows the game of basketball and the league. As he’s grown longer in the tooth, he has become more candid, especially with the media.

He’s had a number of elaborate quotes this year that really shed light on the way he thinks and approaches the job. While that type of openness and honesty is greatly appreciated by fans, it can also cause some raised eyebrows at times.

That was the case on Friday, as coach Cliff had a very interesting quote in his pregame availability.

"“The NBA is full of all these guys, they play cause we drafted them 6th, 7th, 8th and we don’t want to say ‘Gee, we might’ve made a mistake’ and by the time they’re 23, they’re gone… and two more coaches got fired. That’s just reality.”"

Steve Clifford

The Hornets never posted the full media availability, so I have no further context, and don’t know what question was asked of Steve, or if he was speaking about a specific situation. But it seems clear that he’s frustrated about what he sees as a general issue in the league, and defending himself and his fellow coaches a bit.

Regardless of Clifford’s agenda, there is a lot of truth to his comments. Just look around the league and there are a handful of young players who have done nothing to earn their minutes other than being high draft picks.

It’s also easy to see why Steve Clifford is speaking from his own experience. He took over as head coach for Charlotte originally in 2013. The Hornets had drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 2nd overall the year before, they took Cody Zeller 4th overall right after Cliff took over, and over the next few years they selected Noah Vonleh 9th in 2014 and Frank Kaminsky 9th overall in 2015. 

Those are 4 top 10 picks in five years that all essentially amounted to nothing. Sure enough, Coach Clifford was fired in 2018 even though the biggest problem was clearly talent, and specifically the lack of talent and production from early draft picks.

In Clifford’s next stint, with the Orlando Magic, the team immediately selected Mo Bamba with the 6th overall pick in the 2018 draft after having taken Jonathan Isaac 6th overall the year before. Bamba was a bust and Isaac’s career has been derailed by injuries.

And yet the Magic chose to let Clifford go after the 2021 season. Clifford’s future with the Hornets is murky at best given the new ownership and front office changes. And perhaps his knowledge of the situation is allowing him to speak more freely.

But I, for one, appreciate and agree with his candid comments. I hope he keeps the quotables coming, and I hope that the Hornets consider keeping him on board beyond this season, as a coach or in another role. He deserves it.