NBA | Charlotte Hornets | Steve Clifford returns, then what?

It is great news that Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is scheduled to return to the team Tuesday after a series of chronic and debilitating headaches cost him six weeks of this NBA season.

What is not so great is the team he will come back to.

I hope and pray that the doctors have found an excellent treatment plan for “Cliff,” as most everyone calls him, because he’s walking back into a tremendous challenge.

The Charlotte squad that Clifford comes back to coach has been disappointing by every measure. Thought to be a playoff team this year in the Eastern Conference – and perhaps even a top-four playoff team – Charlotte instead languishes at 15-24 overall, which ranks as the 11th-best record in the 15-team East.

The Hornets do not appear to be a team destined for a quick fix. They instead look a whole lot like a team destined for yet another NBA lottery and another blown-up roster and front office.

Clifford unexpectedly had to stop coaching on Dec. 4 to deal with these severe headaches (presumably migraines) that pre-dated this season but have worsened dramatically at times during the year. Lead assistant coach Stephen Silas took over, and the Hornets have gone 7-11 since.

Silas — who still has three more games to coach before Clifford returns — has done a very good job in this “awkward” (his word), long-term substitute kind of role. The Hornets upset Golden State on the road, for one thing. With Silas in charge, the Hornets won 38.9 percent of the time.

Before Clifford’s headaches forced him to take a break, the Hornets were 8-13. With Clifford in charge, the Hornets won 38.1 percent of the time.

The Charlotte Hornets have won 38.9 percent of the time with Stephen Silas in charge this season and 38.1 percent of the time when Steve Clifford has coached the team.

I’m not saying Clifford’s return will make no difference, because it will. It lends an air of stability to a very unsettled situation. No one knew for sure if Clifford was walking into the locker room in the next 20 minutes or never again.

A perpetual grinder, Clifford, 56, is well-liked by basically everyone who meets him, including me. But these Hornets were not very good implementing Clifford’s core concepts before he left – especially on defense — and I’m not sure they will be much better when he returns. The Hornets were well-rested, playing at home and relatively healthy Wednesday night. They still wasted an amazing 41-point game from Kemba Walker and lost to a bad Dallas team.


Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford, right, talks with guard Nicolas Batum. Clifford returns to coaching next week after missing more than a month of the season due to severe and chronic headaches.

Jeff Siner

The Hornets have churned their roster with regularity for years. They often seem like they should change their name to the Charlotte Hamsters, for they constantly spin their wheels.

As for Clifford, this is a guy who has had frequent and severe headaches and he’s returning to a stressful (although very well-paying) job.

Doctors have been trying to slowly ease Clifford back into a functional life, and that apparently has been working. But he’s about to once again pick up the reins of a dysfunctional team.

Clifford has one job. But it’s much easier said than done: The Charlotte Hamsters need a direction. He has to get them off the wheel.

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