Steve Clifford is a good coach, a coach who has the respect of his organization and team.
That includes famous Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan.
But Clifford is likely coaching for his job, the way good coaches sometimes must do in pro basketball. It happened with Frank Vogel in Indiana, Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City, David Blatt with the Cavaliers.
And those are just very recent examples.
Now, as far as anyone can tell, Clifford is not feeling any heat from Jordan or the Hornets front office. There have been no wild Internet rumors that Clifford is on the way out.
But this is the NBA, and pro basketball history is full of tales of teams such as the Hornets, teams that are sort of spinning their wheels, teams that get rid of good coaches for the purpose of trying a different voice.
The Hornets may not yet be there with Clifford.
They may be getting there, though. It wouldn’t be Clifford’s fault. It wouldn’t be the Hornets’ fault. It’s just the way this game is often played.
Charlotte (32-39) is 2.5 games out of the East’s final playoff spot entering Friday’s game against the top-seeded Cavs (7 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio).
The Hornets don’t have a LeBron James, Kyrie Irving or even a Kevin Love. They are 0-3 vs. the Cavs this season.
They do have some nice talent in All-Star guard Kemba Walker, as well swingman Nicholas Batum, small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and several others.
But again, we ain’t talkin’ LeBron and Kyrie here.
And again, we ain’t talkin’ Jordan being the man who will take the fall if the Hornets fail to make the playoffs here.
Right or wrong, that man is too often the coach. Sometimes, it’s a good coach like Clifford.
NOT ENOUGH BUZZ
Clifford, 55, has compiled a 156-161 record in almost four years with the Hornets. Before that, he was a highly respected assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also assisted in New York, Orlando and Houston.
The Hornets are a top-10 defensive team, limiting opponents to 104 points per game. They are also eighth in the league in rebounding (44.3 rpg).
Defense and rebounding. They’re supposed to win championships. The Hornets can’t even get out of the first round.
Is that entirely Clifford’s fault? Not likely. Most around the NBA agree that in this league, the vast majority of coaches are made by their players.
“Great coaches can make decent teams really good, and can turn great teams into dynasties,” one general manager told Amico Hoops. “But if you don’t have a couple superstars in the NBA, you’re getting fired within five years. I don’t care if your name is Poppovich.”
The coach in question here isn’t even that Spurs legend — it’s Clifford.
Does he get fired if the Hornets don’t make the playoffs?
He’s a good coach who probably shouldn’t. But he’s a good coach who also very well could.
This is the NBA, and that is often cruel way in which things are done.
NOTEBOOK — Everyone is expected to play for the Cavs. No word yet on if Love will also be available for Saturday’s home game vs. the Wizards. … The same goes for reserve swingman Kyle Korver, who is coming off a foot injury. Like Love, Korver is on a minutes restriction. Love is not expected to play in both games of a back-to-back set. … The Hornets have won three straight. … The Cavs (46-24) hold a one-game lead over Boston for first in the East. … Here’s our feature from Maine on Kay Felder. … The rookie point guard was with the Canton Charge and ticked off the home team by trying to dunk at the final buzzer. Give it a read. … The Cavs recalled center Larry Sanders from the Charge.