Steve Clifford was there the last time the Orlando Magic were a playoff contender.
He’s being asked to make them one again.
Clifford was announced Wednesday as the new coach of the Magic, a team that has missed the playoffs in each of the last six years. Clifford – who spent the last five seasons as coach of the Charlotte Hornets – was an assistant coach on Stan Van Gundy’s Magic staff during the team’s most recent playoff run in 2012.
“We are very excited to welcome Steve back into the Magic family,” Magic president Jeff Weltman said. “Steve is widely regarded throughout the NBA community as an elite coach and developer of players at all stages. His teams have always been disciplined and prepared, and have embraced the concept of playing for each other.”
The team scheduled a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
Clifford is replacing Frank Vogel, who was let go after two seasons. Clifford – who missed 21 games this past season while dealing with severe headaches brought on by sleep deprivation – was fired by Charlotte at the end of this season, after going 196-214.
Hiring Clifford is easily the biggest move made so far by Weltman. He took over the club a year ago after the team fired Rob Hennigan and ended his five-year run that never got on solid footing.
Weltman made the decision after this season to part with Vogel, who was a proven winner in Indiana but simply didn’t have a playoff-caliber roster in Orlando.
Neither does Clifford, at this point anyway. It will take more than a coaching change to improve Orlando’s fortunes.
Clifford was ousted in Charlotte after a front-office shakeup. Owner Michael Jordan fired general manager Rich Cho and eventually hired Mitch Kupchak to replace him in April. Kupchak fired Clifford not long afterward.
The Hornets went to the playoffs twice in Clifford’s five seasons, never winning a playoff series.
“The NBA isn’t about winning – the NBA is about winning in the playoffs,” Clifford said at the end of Charlotte’s season.
Clifford is coming to a franchise that has lost more games than any other NBA club over the past six years – 335. That’s four more than Philadelphia, a franchise that was openly tanking for years before turning things around this season.
The Magic weren’t tanking. They’ve just been bad.
Orlando hasn’t had longer than a five-game winning streak at any time over the last six seasons. But over that same span, the Magic have had 23 losing streaks of at least five games. On their way to a 25-57 record that left them 18 games out of a playoff spot, the Magic had two seven-game slides and two other nine-game skids.
Since Van Gundy left, the Magic have gone through a series of resets.
There have been 62 players in uniform over the last six seasons – none of them an All-Star while in Orlando – and now five different coaches. Van Gundy was replaced by Jacque Vaughn, who was let go after 2 1/2 seasons and replaced on an interim basis by James Borrego. Scott Skiles then took over for one year, and Vogel ran things the last two seasons.
Clifford now gets his chance.
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