The Charlotte Bobcats are entering their third consecutive season with a different head coach—their sixth in ten seasons. It doesn’t matter anymore who’s to blame for the Bobcats baffling hires and continuous trips to the coaching carousel—what’s important is making the latest hire work.
Steve Clifford is a longtime assistant under the tutelage of the Van Gundy brothers, who’ve also groomed Tom Thibodeau and Mike Malone for head coaching jobs. Clifford has a reputation for defensive improvement, player development, and in contrast with past hires—knows today’s NBA.
Clifford needs a legitimate chance to steer a franchise that traditionally hasn’t allowed coaches to get their feet wet. The Carolina Panthers are enduring the worst of the Ron Rivera hire, but the silver lining is they’ve given Rivera three seasons to implement his system.
The Bobcats were right by not giving extended opportunities to Sam Vincent and Mike Dunlap. Time can’t benefit a coach that was never qualified for the position—and neither is likely to get second chances as head coaches in the NBA. This isn’t an experiment that’s guaranteed to succeed, but at the bare minimum players and fans can see the credibility in Clifford, that the one-and-done coaches lack.
Clifford knows how to communicate with today’s players and push them properly. Stan Van Gundy credits him with some of the player development of the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic. Clifford is in a better situation than past hires. He doesn’t have to follow the Larry Brown hangover or the stench of a seven win season—the worst has (hopefully) been seen.
A bottom-dwelling season shouldn’t decide Clifford’s tenure with the team. 50 losses are still probable—the Bobcats don’t resemble a playoff contender even in a depleted Eastern Conference and the acquisition of Al Jefferson. They won’t be complaining about a high pick in next year’s draft—already being hyped as the best since 2003. If the Bobcats do manage to sneak into the playoffs, its great momentum for the Hornets rebranding next season.
The Bobcats can handle more losing, but another season of non-effort, soft defense and shot-clock violations is inexcusable. Clifford, who preached about competing and playing as a team at his presser won’t tolerate it either. For once, it appears the Bobcats didn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel for another substitute teacher.