The Charlotte Bobcats introduced their new head coach Wednesday – a veteran NBA assistant named Steve Clifford.
Steve Clifford is taking over a tough job.
The Bobcats were the second-worst team in the league last year. The year before, they had worst record in NBA history. And since the team entered the league in 2004, it hasn't kept a single head coach for more than three seasons.
But Clifford said as he prepared for his interview in Charlotte, one thing jumped out.
“The fact that the younger core guys here, to me, are above-average competitors,” Clifford said.
Clifford said in his priorities as a coach, competitiveness comes before skill level. He said players like Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson have the right mentality to handle a grueling NBA season.
“In this league, when you're playing four (games) in five nights, you're playing five (games) in seven, there aren't many times when you can address the group and have some magic word to get them to play hard,” Clifford said. “You either have the right kind of guys or you don't.”
Clifford thinks he has them in Charlotte. The team wouldn’t release details about Clifford’s contract, but USA Today reports it’s a two-year deal with an option for a third, worth $6 million if he stays three years.
NBA analyst Tim Legler said on ESPN there's reason to be optimistic about Clifford in Charlotte.
“One thing he does have going for him that I do like is he has been in winning situations,” Legler said.
He points out Clifford was an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic when that team made the NBA Finals in 2009. Clifford has also been to the playoffs with the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and New York Knicks as a coach and scout.
“I like the fact that you're now taking a guy that has learned from winning systems and (learned) what it takes in this league in terms of schemes, in terms of managing personnel, in terms of work ethic and what your practices and film sessions are like,” Legler said.
In fact, Clifford said his focus for the offseason is helping each player work on a specific part of their game. He wants every player to come back with something new, like a better post move or the ability to finish around the basket with their weak hand.
Clifford would not say if he thinks the team can make the playoffs in its last season as the Bobcats. The year after next, they become the Hornets.