Charlotte Hornets: What Makes Steve Clifford So Good?

Since Steve Clifford’s arrival to the Charlotte Hornets in 2013, he has made vast improvements to a franchise that has been in the lottery for most of their recent history.


The NBA has seen its fair share of terrible coaches. Steve Clifford is not one of those terrible coaches. To be honest he is far from being terrible and has proven to be a key piece to the Charlotte Hornets’ success. Many people tend to forget the days before Clifford when the Hornets/Bobcats had many different coaches. I, as a fan, remember those days quite well.

The Hornets have made 2 playoff appearances in the last 3 years. Being honest without injuries in the 2014-2015 season they probably would have made the playoffs for 3 straight years. Although the Hornets have yet to be consistent when drafting talent they have gotten marginally better since Clifford has taken over as head coach. However, there is no doubt Clifford has made this organization better since coming to Charlotte. Let us take a look at how he has become one of the best coaches in the NBA.

Lets Players Be Themselves

A lot of coaches seem to want control over players and who they are. Clifford does not force his views on players and tends to let them have fun.  In that respect he is similar to Carolina Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera. Clifford likes to give players a long leash instead of a short one. He seems to know when to push the right buttons to get a player into the right frame of mind.

 Many people who have worked around Clifford describe him as a laid back guy and easy to get along with. Yes, he does demand the best from players but he also understands there are limits to their abilities. You will never hear him ask Al Jefferson to become an excellent shot blocker or ask Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to become the next Ray Allen. He knows who his players are and fits them into his system accordingly.

Changes Scheme To Fit Situation

Clifford is not the type of coach who sets up a scheme and keeps it going no matter what the situation is. His scheme will evolve to fit the current situational needs of the team. If an opponent decides to go big then the team will play big. If an opponent goes small then the team will play small. Clifford knows the right players for every situation or at the very least the right players to give them a shot to win.

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When the Hornets play a team that does not guard the three-point line well then he may create line ups that try to exploit that team’s weakness. Most teams have a type of game plan they generally like to play and the Hornets are no different. It seems as though Clifford just likes to add a little confusion to the opponent’s game plan while still maintaining the Hornets’ identity. Creating mismatches on the fly is a very good trait for a coach in any sport.

Knows How To Work With Front Office

The Hornets’ front office is filled with a lot of unique personalities and working for the organization would require someone who could get along with those characters. When you are taking orders from one of the greatest players of all time such as Michael Jordan you better have your head on straight as well. Jordan wants to be a winner and he also pushes the people he hires to give everything they can into making the Hornets’ franchise a successful one. So, it is no surprise that Clifford has the right personality to work with Jordan as well as general manager Rich Cho. As Clifford says in the video below he enjoys working with Jordan.


Rich Cho may be the one pulling the strings in the front office but it does seem as if Clifford has a good amount of input as well. Clifford has always praised the picks that Cho has made and that tells me they are working together on the draft to get the player that not only Cho likes but also the player that fits into Clifford’s system. Clifford never makes excuses or tries to blame the front office for mistakes. That is a sign that both the general manager and the head coach are on the same page.

Bottom Line

Clifford is an excellent coach and has all the makings of a long-term coaching solution for the Hornets. The Hornets have already extended Clifford’s contract for another 3 seasons starting next season. If you do not like Clifford as a coach it should be you who is looking in the mirror at yourself wondering why you dislike the guy so much. He has taken a bottom dweller and made the team relevant again. He did all of this while having a lot of player turn over from drafts, trades, and free agency. It can be said that there are not many coaches who could have done what he has done the past 3 seasons. Go Hornets!