Report: Steve Clifford returning to Charlotte as Hornets coach

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After their first choice Kenny Atkinson spurned them to return to the Golden State bench, the Charlotte Hornets have reportedly found a familiar name to take over as head coach.

Steve Clifford has agreed to a deal to coach the Hornets, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports. Terms of the deal weren't initially reported.

Clifford previously coached the Hornets from 2013-18. The Hornets fired him in 2018 days after Mitch Kupchak took over the front office as president and general manager. Clifford then coached the Orlando Magic for three seasons before a "mutual" parting in 2021 amid a roster rebuild. He spent last season away from the NBA after working as an assistant or head coach in the league every season from 2000-2021.

Feb 3, 2020; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford looks on during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Clifford is returning for a second stint with the Hornets. (Jeremy Brevard/Reuters)

Marc Stein of the New York Times initially reported that the Hornets were considering hiring Clifford while The Charlotte Observer's Scott Fowler and Roderick Boone reported that Kupchak and team owner Michael Jordan had direct talks with Clifford ahead of Thursday's NBA draft. Hornets brass also spoke with veteran NBA coach Mike D'antoni, per the report.

Clifford led the Hornets to a 196-204 record during his initial tenure with the team. He coached the Hornets to playoff appearances in 2014 and 2016, both of which ended in first-round losses to the Miami Heat. The Hornets haven't made the playoffs since, missing the postseason during James Borrego's four-year tenure. Borrego replaced Clifford in 2018 and was fired after Charlotte failed to advance past the play-in round last season.

The Hornets reportedly reached an agreement to hire Atkinson on June 10. But Atkinson opted instead to return as an assistant to the Warriors on Saturday, days after Golden State beat the Boston Celtics for the NBA championship. Atkinson was the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets for four seasons and will return for his second season on the Golden State bench.

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