Lakers assistant coach Steve Clifford is scheduled to interview for the Charlotte Bobcats’ vacant-head coaching position within the next two weeks, according to sources familiar with the situation. The Lakers have given the Bobcats permission to do so, according to one source familiar with the discussions.
Former Lakers coach Mike Brown hired Clifford from the Orlando Magic both because of his defensive expertise and his experience working with Dwight Howard. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni kept all of Brown’s assistants, including Chuck Person, Bernie Bickerstaff, Darvin Ham, Eddie Jordan and Clifford. D’Antoni hired his brother, Dan, to help oversee his offense after spending time on his staff in Phoenix and New York. Jordan eventually accepted the Rutgers’ head-coaching position shortly before the Lakers’ regular-season ended.
The Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell first reported the Bobcats’ interest in Clifford to replace the recently fired coach Mike Dunlap following a league-worst 21-61 record and have gone through five head coaches in franchise history since 2004. Bickerstaff had coached the Bobcats to a 77-169 record. And former Lakers assistants Brian Shaw and Quin Snyder interviewed for the position last year once Charlotte fired Paul Silas following a 32-88 record through two seasons.
Despite Charlotte’s woeful record and its frequent coaching changes, Clifford still finds the position attractive because he’s seeking NBA head-coaching experience, according to a source familiar with his thinking. The Bobcats are reported to have also shown interest in former Suns coach Alvin Gentry as well as four other assistants in Nate Tibbetts (Cleveland), Kelvin Sampson (Houston), Jeff Hornacek (Utah) and Elston Turner (Phoenix).
Clifford first started out in the NBA ranks as an advance scout for the New York Knicks (2000-01) before moving up as an assistant coach (2001-03) under Don Nelson. He then worked as an assistant for Jeff Van Gundy with the Houston Rockets (2003-2007) and for Stan Van Gundy with the Orlando Magic (2007-2012). While Clifford was an assistant the past four years, the Magic finished in the top 10 defensively each season. Clifford held a similar role with the Lakers, though they finished 22nd in total defense (101. points per game) partly because of Howard’s limitations stemmed from offseason back surgery and a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Prior to his professional coaching experience, Clifford spent more than a decade in college coaching. That included a four-year stint as Adelphi’s head coach, where he became the first coach in school history to have consecutive 20-win seasons. Clifford also guided Adelphi to NCAA Division II tournament appearances in all four years. Clifford also had assistant coaching gigs at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire, Fairfeld University, Boston University and Siena College. When Stan Van Gundy’s tenure in Orlando ended, Clifford went to the Lakers to work for Mike Brown, who lost his job early this season. Brown’s replacement, Mike D’Antoni, installed Clifford as his lead assistant.
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