Charlotte has hired their 3rd coach in the last 3 seasons with Steve Clifford. Unlike the last hire, Clifford does possess quite a bit of NBA coaching experience. He coached with Stan Van Gundy in Orlando, Jeff Van Gundy in Houston and Mike Brown + Mike D’Antoni with the Lakers. Clifford has been an assistant throughout the NBA for 13 years.
Steve Clifford has drawn many Tom Thibodeau comparisons due to the fact that he’s a defensive minded coach and he coached with Thibs on Jeff Van Gundy’s staff in Houston.
“When you work with a guy for a while, you just know when he has “it,” and this guy has ‘it.’ When he gets his opportunity, he’ll knock it out of the park.” — Jeff Van Gundy on Clifford.
“But I’ve always said – Some GM is going to make a lot of money off Clifford because he is going to get the maximum level output from his team, and the organization will benefit greatly from that.” — Jeff Van Gundy on Clifford.
Clifford’s contract is reportedly worth $6 million over 3 seasons, with the final season being a team option. Clifford is also expected to bring Patrick Ewing with him to Charlotte to be a member of the coaching staff, according to Adrian Wojnarowski.
Let’s go roundtable with the QCH Panel and dissect what to expect from Steve Clifford in Charlotte —
Spencer: The accolades that he’s receiving from the rest of the NBA coaching fraternity. Some of the comments that the Van Gundy contingency are making is extremely encouraging and suggests that Clifford knows what he’s doing in this league — although I still believe that Dunlap is a very good coach and probably should have gotten one more year, it’s encouraging that Charlotte now has a coach who has experience in this league + has a reputation of getting the most out of individuals in a much more egotistical saturated environment.
I’m a sucker for defense, so I’m probably most excited about the fact that this is the area we will see the most improvement in. It didn’t seem as if Dunlap was able to get consistent effort/energy from players, but if the rumblings about Clifford being a player’s coach who can get maximum effort from more guys than not are true, then we’ll see immediate defensive improvement — regardless of the scheme.
Greg: Clifford seems to have a pretty solid resume; he’s coached under both of the Van Gundy brothers, and caught on with the Lakers as a top assistant after Stan Van Gundy’s tenure in Orlando ended. He’s not a high-profile assistant like Mike Malone or Brian Shaw, but he has a lot of experience under some top-flight coaches. At the very least, he should have a better sense than Mike Dunlap of what makes sense and what doesn’t in the pro game.
Mathew: What impresses me most is the amount of time he’s spent coaching under a host of successful defensive-minded coaches such as Jeff Van Gundy. Given the years he’s put in as an NBA assistant, he appears adequately prepared for the challenge that is the Charlotte Bobcats head coaching position.
2- What drastic change should fans expect in Charlotte with the implementation of Steve Clifford?
Spencer: Defensive style. Clifford appears to be an old school style of coach in the sense that he wants his teams to be very disciplined and tight on the defensive end — he was strictly the defensive coordinator for D’Antoni and the Lakers. As you see with Thibs teams in Chicago, they rotate defensively as well, if not better, than any team in the league. I’m not suggesting that Clifford will come in and have Charlotte looking like the Bulls on the defensive end, but if he draws comparisons to the style of Thibs + has a reputation of getting maximum effort/being a players coach, we’ll likely see vast improvement defensively.
Greg: It’s difficult to find much information on Clifford’s preferred style, but it makes sense that he’d try to install a system similar to the one he helped run in Orlando. Here’s how Eddy Rivera at Magic Basketball summed up that team’s defensive philosophyin the past:
With Dwight Howard manning the middle, some of the Magic’s defensive tenets are as followed: limit shot opportunities at the rim, don’t foul as to prevent free-throw opportunities, and coerce as many jumpshots as possible. Also, rebounding the basketball and getting back in transition (thus sacrificing chances for offensive rebounds) are things that matter a great deal to Van Gundy. Rarely will you see Orlando try and go for steals, for example, because Van Gundy would rather rely on fundamentals on defense than gamble and be out of position.
On offense, the Magic relied heavily on three-pointers and installed shooters at every position but center. Clifford won’t have the luxury of Dwight Howard or many long-range specialists with the current Bobcats, so it’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to their roster. A better-organized defense will probably be the most immediate change.
Mathew: Better defense. The NBA’s final four post-season teams all finished in the top seven in Defensive Efficiency, with the Pacers and Grizzlies boasting the League’s best two ratings. It’s not a sexy sell to the team’s fans but this is the direction the NBA is headed. There are certain to be more Tom Thibodeau’s and less Mike D’Antoni’s moving forward. The Bobcats finished dead last in Defensive Efficiency last season. Of course a team needs the right players to execute lock-down defense, but coaching matters. Look for Coach Clifford to immediately put his stamp on the defensive end of the court.
3- Will Clifford last 3 years (contractual agreement)?
Spencer: I don’t think Charlotte has a choice but to allow Clifford a fair amount of time. At some point, the organization is going to have to be invested in a coach and allow him time to prove his system can work. With a roster like Charlotte’s, it’s obviously not reasonable to expect results overnight (still why I’m confused about Dunlap firing), but I think that the front office feels as if they truly have ‘their guy’ now.
Remember this — this is the hire that the team has made on the heels of the announcement of returning to the Hornets + one year prior to a draft that could field the team 3 1st round draft picks. Those factors would suggest that Cho & Higgins truly perceive Clifford as the man to help Charlotte turn the corner in this exhausting rebuilding effort.
Greg: I don’t see why not. You can look at the Dunlap firing and say that management has an itchy trigger finger, but I’m not sure they were ever that happy with the hire in the first place. It came after two of their top candidates, Brian Shaw and Jerry Sloan, removed themselves from the running. It’s always possible that it doesn’t work out, but Clifford won’t have the extreme learning curve that Dunlap had. That alone gives him a better shot at sticking around.
Mathew: I’ll say yes. The third year is a team option, but I’ll continue to be play the role of optimist and say Cho & Co. know what they’re doing this time. As Greg noted, there’s plenty of evidence out there that suggests the team was not all that thrilled last year when they brought Coach Dunlap on board. Was Clifford the Bobcats’ first choice this time around? Who knows, but he boasts infinitely more NBA experience and seems to generally be held in relatively high regard across the League. I say he’s in the market to buy, not rent – well, at least rent to own.