Steve Clifford isn’t Mike Dunlap, nor is he Sam Vincent.
The Charlotte Bobcats latest coaching hire has more working for him to avoid flaming out after one season as both coaches did.
He’s worked for both Van Gundy brothers in New York (2001-03), Houston (2003-07) and Orlando (2007-12). All three stops saw improvements in team defense, which speaks volumes to his ability as a defensive specialist and communicator.
Most recently Clifford was an assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers, due to his strong relationship with Dwight Howard from Orlando.
Any of next season’s strides will first happen defensively. The Bobcats hope is that Clifford can be the gem that fellow Van Gundy prodigy Tom Thibodeau has become in Chicago. Thibodeau had a similar background before the Bulls hired him in 2010.
Regardless, Clifford is entering the Queen City over his head. The Bobcats have been a haunted house for head coaches.
They’ve had six head coaches in nine years as a franchise, with eight losing seasons during the same timespan. They’ve never won a playoff game and have only been to the postseason once. All-star players rightfully don’t consider coming to Charlotte and playing in front of a half-filled Time Warner Cable Arena.
But compared to past seasons, Clifford will have more advantages to establish the culture change needed in Charlotte.
Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson both made noticeable improvements last season. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo are 19 and 20 respectively and have the potential to be solid starters. The Bobcats have the fourth pick in next month’s draft to add another young piece. They’ll have more than $20 million in cap space this summer to pursue free agents or absorb salary through trades. They could have three first round picks in next year’s draft, which many believe is the strongest since 2008.
Clifford could be the next face in a line of Bobcats’ buyer’s remorse. The Bobcats will probably have another losing record next season, but the organization has to allow time for Clifford to implement his system. His resume is impressive, though it isn’t necessarily going to translate. At the bare minimum, the league and fans aren’t scratching their heads as they were with the Vincent and Dunlap hires.
Clifford has a respectable chance of being a tremendous hire for the Bobcats, but he will only guide this team as far as the organization allows him to.