AP Sports

Steve Clifford is stepping down as Hornets coach as ‘grind’ of 82 games becomes too much

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Steve Clifford said the grind of an 82-game season became too much — and the losing didn’t help, either.

So Clifford informed the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday that he is stepping down as head coach after the season. He plans to stay on in an advisory role, with the details still being worked out.

Clifford said he wasn’t forced out by management and it was his decision to leave.

“You need a certain energy level to get through 82 games,” Clifford told The Associated Press. “This year was really tough to get through.”

It doesn’t help that the Hornets are 18-57 this season and just 45-112 over the past two seasons under Clifford.

“Probably the losing over the last couple of years has been part of it,” Clifford acknowledged. “I don’t know how you gauge that, but it wears on you. This can be an incredibly rewarding league. But it’s also difficult with all of the travel. I got to the point this year where it was all too much for me. I need time away from coaching.”

Clifford declined to say if his health factored into his decision.

In 2017, during his first stint with the Hornets, Clifford stepped away from the team because of a health issue.

Clifford believes the Hornets are in good hands and have a solid core in Brandon Miller and LaMelo Ball.

“The foundation is there,” Clifford said. “Two days ago I am sitting here and watching our game earlier this season against the Celtics (from November) and LaMelo has 36 points and (eight) assists and Mark (Williams) has 18 points and 16 rebounds and Miles (Bridges) hits a game-winning 3. My point is there is a talented foundation there.”

Injuries have plagued Clifford’s tenure with the Hornets, with several key players, most notably Ball, missing a significant number of games.

“It’s certainly been a major contributing factor,” Clifford said of the losing.

Clifford is 337-457 in parts of 10 seasons as a head coach, most of them in Charlotte. He started as a head coach in Charlotte in 2013, then spent three seasons as coach of Orlando before returning to the Hornets.

Clifford’s contract was set to expire after the season.

This is the second major move under new owners Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall after Mitch Kupchak stepped down as general manager midseason and was later replaced by Jeff Peterson.

Peterson has known Clifford since their time together with the Brooklyn Nets and said he has tremendous respect for him.

“I understand his decision to step down,” Peterson said. “His basketball knowledge, teaching ability and work ethic are well-respected throughout the NBA. He has had to endure some very difficult circumstances the past two years, and yet our players have continued to compete, work hard and develop.”

Peterson said the Hornets will begin a search for a replacement immediately.

“We will look to hire someone that shares our values and vision in developing our young core and creating a culture and identity based on teamwork, accountability and competitiveness,” Peterson said. “We will conduct a thorough search process to select the best head coach for the Hornets moving forward.”

Clifford previously served as head coach of the Hornets from 2013-2018, leading the team to two playoff appearances. Clifford’s 241 victories as head coach are the most in Charlotte’s history.

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba

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