Hornets coach Steve Clifford returned to practice following a 21-game absence due to headaches caused by sleep deprivation. Clifford said Tuesday when he began experiencing intense headaches back in early December it scared him so bad he decided to take a medical leave of absence. Medical tests revealed nothing wrong internally, but Clifford said doctors told him he needed to dramatically change his lifestyle and work habits — and get more sleep.
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What happened over the next 5 1/2 weeks had little do with with basketball, everything to do with self-preservation. It registered on Clifford, who turned 56 in September, that this could potentially end his season, if not his career. Clifford’s condition doesn’t necessarily fit the description of migraines, which his brother has suffered from for years. Jung told Clifford what he was feeling was a pattern among highly stressed Charlotte executives. “The biggest thing for me is a lack of sleep. Stress-related,” Clifford said. “(Jung’s) biggest concern with me is (most executives) don’t travel as much as I do. That’s why they have been a little more careful — and rightfully so — about me coming back.”
“Dr. Jung told me, ‘You don’t have internal issues. That’s good; those would be tougher.’” Clifford recalled. “Most people with headache issues have external issues, like their job. You find out sleep is everything. People say you are what you eat or you’ve got to drink more water. Those things are important, but not nearly as important as regular sleep.”
Hornets coach Steve Clifford will rejoin the team for practice on Tuesday. Clifford, who left the team Dec. 6 because of health reasons, will coach the Hornets Wednesday against Washington. He spoke with his team on Friday. “It’s great news,” Batum said. “I called him right away and talked to him. It’s good to know he’s coming back, and it’s good to know he’s getting better. He’s been out a few weeks, and it could be scary (to be sick), but the most important thing right now is his health.”
Two years ago, Charlotte coach Steve Clifford turned to the team’s medical staff, searching for something to dull periodic headaches. They gave him medication to manage the pain, and Clifford marched the franchise into the playoffs. Time passed, but the headaches only worsened. Doctors ran him through a battery of exams during the 2017 All-Star break, and Clifford kept going. Eventually this season, Clifford was struggling to sleep at all. The pain had become prodigious. All the angst over the winning and losing, all the hours watching video, all those 3:00 a.m. hotel arrivals off back-to-back games, and finally, Clifford sat inside his practice facility office on an early December game-day morning and the truth washed over him: I can’t live this way anymore.
Four years ago, Steve Clifford had two stents inserted into his heart on a Friday and coached on the road Monday against the Boston Celtics. Charlotte’s team physician, Joseph Garcia, stood over him in the hospital room and suggested that he sit out that charter flight on Sunday to New England. “But there was no way I wasn’t going on that trip,” Clifford told ESPN by phone on Friday morning. “But this issue now, the headaches, was not even close to the heart. That week before I stepped away, and that morning in the office, it scared me. It was much more significant than the heart was, and I’ve never had anything physically that concerned me as much as this did. “The doctors, all of us, agreed that there was no way I was in a place where I could coach. Whatever I needed to do, I needed to feel better.”
How Steve Clifford had always lived and grinded on the job — a bachelor with no kids living out of a spartan condo near the office — offered him an around-the-clock dedication to his craft. In many ways, though, Clifford had tilted the imbalances too far. He had to change — or risk losing everything. “For the most part, the diagnosis was sleep deprivation,” Clifford told ESPN. “The headaches and the cause of the headaches were a lack of regular sleep and the stress that goes along with coaching. There were two ways to treat it: Stronger medication or stepping away from coaching, stopping the travel, getting regular sleep, diet and exercise. “But getting on medication would only be a Band-Aid. It could get me through another day, a week, a month, but here was my decision: Long-term health versus coaching right now. The doctor told me, ‘You may get through this season, but you’re going to have migraines soon, and that’s going to become a much bigger problem for you.'”
Clifford was on the phone Friday morning, about to drive downtown into the office and see his players and coaches, the trainers and PR staff. He’ll run a practice on Tuesday, coach against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, and he’ll try to get past all these injuries and get Charlotte to the Eastern Conference playoffs for the third time in five seasons on the job. The Hornets have a better schedule coming and their coach back to take them through it. “As much as anything, I missed the daily interaction with everyone there,” Clifford said. “I’ve coached most of these guys for a long time. The base is already in place, and we will just need to get the details into the right place for the next game. I don’t need to reinvent anything or give a big motivational speech. I just want to get back to work, get back to our team. “I’m better now, and I’m going to be better in the long run. And I’ve missed it.”
Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford has been cleared to return to the bench next week, the Observer has learned.
Clifford has been out since early December with an undisclosed medical condition. In his absence, associate head coach Stephen Silas has been in charge of the team. Clifford has been going through a battery of medical tests, and received clearance Thursday to go back to work, a team source told the Observer. Clifford is expected to return for practice at Spectrum Center Tuesday in preparation for the Wednesday home game against the Wizards.
Rod Beard: #Pistons SVG on #Hornets coach Steve Clifford: “It’s scary for any of us when we have a friend who’s going through something. To be honest, it’s scary on a personal level too. You just wonder what you’re doing in terms of the way you take care of yourself in this business.”
Vincent Ellis: More SVG on #Hornets Steve Clifford: “It didn’t realize it’s been an ongoing problem. He’s had it for a long time and it’s really getting worse so he needs to take some time and get some tests here. He’s been on my mind since I heard about it.”
KC Johnson: Fred Hoiberg said he exchanged text messages with Hornets coach Steve Clifford, who won’t coach Friday’s game as he addresses a health issue: “Steve is one of the truly good guys in this business. You hope everything is OK with him and that he’s back on the bench soon.”
The Charlotte Hornets announced today that Head Coach Steve Clifford will be away from the team for the immediate future to address his health. Currently, there is no timetable for his return. Hornets Associate Head Coach Stephen Silas will serve as acting head coach. Out of respect for Clifford’s privacy, the Hornets will have no further comment at this time.
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February 21, 2018 | 9:00 am EST Update
Polk said it’s a “concern” Walker will likely have to reach unrestricted free-agency before he could be re-signed, but that’s a function of the rules. “We love Kemba Walker,” Polk said. “We would like nothing more than for Kemba to end his career here.”
It took years to fully recover from the injury and he wasn’t cleared to play again until May 2017. The rehabilitation process tested him both mentally and physically, but he found a way to reach his goal. “It was essentially a four-year process,” Okafor said. “I just took my time making sure, not only the initial injury (was healed), but to recondition and rehab everything. … (I) figured while I’m waiting for my disc to heal, I can take the time to heal other things. When I come back, (I can) feel nice and bouncy and rejuvenated.”
Charlotte Hornets rookie Malik Monk missed a portion of Tuesday’s practice, while being examined following a car accident in Arkansas over All-Star break. Monk suffered from upper-body soreness when he arrived for Tuesday’s late-afternoon practice, so a team doctor checked him out. Monk returned to practice at Spectrum Center in time to put up some jump shots after most of the other players left the practice court. “They just had to make sure he was OK,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “He wasn’t able to practice today, but he says he feels better. He’s just stiff. So, we’ll just see tomorrow how he feels and where he is at.”
Asked if he anticipates Steve Clifford, who has a season remaining on his contract, being the coach here next season, Polk responded, “I would today.” Like each of Clifford’s previous four seasons, he and his staff will be evaluated in the spring. “Once we get a new general manager on board, we’ll talk about the coaching staff,” Polk said. “Steve has brought a lot of strong organization” to the franchise, Polk said, adding Clifford’s health crisis (a six-week leave to address severe headaches) concerned everyone in management.
February 21, 2018 | 5:07 am EST Update
“He’s not [coming back to Miami]. But the fact when ESPN polled 48 players about what they thought might happen with LeBron that they even mentioned the Heat shows that, at worst, the Heat remain relevant in players’ consciousness,” Winderman wrote. “Basically, the NBA players polled still consider the Heat a desirable landing spot. And that is a good thing. But I cannot fathom, as you pointed out, the Heat having enough on their roster to attract such a level of free agent. There was a time when I thought Hassan Whiteside could have been such a lure, but with his role minimized, I don’t see that as the case anymore.”