NBA Rumors: Steve Clifford Linked to Hornets Return as HC After Kenny Atkinson's Snub

Adam WellsJune 23, 2022

ORLANDO, FL - APRIL 12: Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford is seen on the sidelines against the San Antonio Spurs at Amway Center on April 12, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Alex Menendez/Getty Images

As the Charlotte Hornets continue to search for a head coach following Kenny Atkinson's decision not to take the job, a familiar name is reportedly being considered by the team.

Per NBA reporter Marc Stein on his Substack, there is "serious mounting buzz" that Steve Clifford is emerging as a candidate to return to the Hornets after previously coaching the team from 2013-18.

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak announced on April 22 that James Borrego had been fired after four seasons. The 44-year-old went 138-163 with no playoff appearances in Charlotte.

Atkinson originally agreed to become Borrego's replacement on June 10, but ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported eight days later that he decided to remain with the Golden State Warriors as the lead assistant on Steve Kerr's coaching staff.

The Hornets and Atkinson never signed a contract after they agreed to a four-year deal.

Mike D'Antoni, who was a finalist for the job before Atkinson initially accepted it, met with Hornets governor Michael Jordan on Tuesday, per Wojnarowski.

According to Stein, the Hornets are expected to hire a new head coach with prior experience in that role.

Clifford has eight years of head-coaching experience between the Hornets and Orlando Magic (2018-21). The 60-year-old has a 292-345 career record with four playoff appearances.

Since the franchise was reactivated in 2004, their best single-season record came with Clifford as head coach in 2015-16 (48-34). They were the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference but lost to the Miami Heat in seven games in the first round of the postseason.

The Hornets have the potential to be a factor in the Eastern Conference playoff race as soon as next season. LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges are an excellent young duo. P.J. Washington is a solid role player.

There is a strong foundation already in place for Charlotte's next head coach to build around after the team finished 43-39 in 2021-22.