The Charlotte Bobcats have finally found a long-term solution to install as their head coach in Steve Clifford.
According to ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne, Michael Jordan's franchise gave the former Los Angeles Lakers assistant a three-year, $6 million contract—with Charlotte holding an option on the third year.
It's likely that team brass will pick up Clifford’s option instead of canning the longtime assistant, something the Bobcats have been notorious for in recent years. Mike Dunlap, the club’s most recent head coach, lasted through just one 21-61 season before being fired.
Clifford will become the sixth head coach in the organization’s 10-year existence. However, unlike his predecessors, he actually has a good chance to change this team's course and steer it away from the mires of mediocrity.
The work that he's put in and the experience he's gained over the years should help Charlotte get back in the playoff mix.
Before joining the Lakers at the start of the 2012-13 campaign under Mike Brown—and later Mike D’Antoni—Clifford worked with Stan Van Gundy’s Orlando Magic (2007-12) and Jeff Van Gundy’s Houston Rockets (2003-07). He earned his start in the league back in 2000 as an advanced scout for the Knicks and was promoted to assistant coach the next year.
His former employers have nothing but rave reviews for their colleague, with Jeff Van Gundy telling Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:
He has got it all. He's a great Xs and Os guy and he has got a great ability to teach and he has great relationships with players. He's very much into preparation. He won't take any shortcuts. Steve will put a great emphasis on developing players. Not just skill development, but using film, talking to guys individually, spending time with them. And on the court he will emphasize defense, ball movement and guys playing together. He will be a fabulous head coach.
There have been some comparisons strewn about between Clifford and the Chicago Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau, who were both assistants with the Knicks in the early 2000s. Thibs parlayed the championship-winning defense he helped create with the Boston Celtics into an extremely successful start to his career as a head coach.
While it’s a bit premature to compare Clifford’s mentality and abilities as a coach and motivator to someone who has taken the Bulls to the next level, it could be a best-case scenario in Charlotte.
The Bobcats have a couple of young players on the roster that look like cornerstones to build around, including Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker.
If the franchise can unearth a stud with the No. 4 selection in the 2013 NBA draft, there will be a solid core to develop in Carolina.
With this club set to change its nickname and become the Hornets by the start of the 2014-15 campaign, Clifford is the right guy to change the identity of this team on the court and will have a winning product on the floor sooner than later.