Steve Clifford Rumors
What did you think of the Steve Clifford hire? He has some experience working with great bigs. What are your initial thoughts on your new head coach? Nikola Vucevic: I think it’s a great hire for us. I actually had dinner with him last Thursday and it was a great dinner. We talked a lot about the team. He obviously just got here, so he was still trying to learn our team and everything and he hadn’t gotten a chance to watch as much film of us as he would’ve liked to. But just based on everything he said, I can tell he’s a really smart coach and just a really smart person in general. You can tell he knows the game really well. He’s really creative. He’s going to do a really good job of putting our guys in positions to be successful and making us better. Everything we talked about throughout our conversation was very positive. He’s someone who is very direct and straightforward, which I think is very important, especially with our team since we are still so young. He’s someone who may be hard on you, but that’s the only way you can improve – when you’re willing to listen to constructive criticism and use it. I think he’s the type of person who can really help us. When we played Charlotte [when Coach Clifford was there], we always knew that they were going to be very good at executing their stuff and defensively, they were going to do what they do. They were a team that didn’t beat themselves. We really struggled against them. Out of all the teams, they were just one of those teams that we just couldn’t beat for a while. I think he’s a coach who can step in and really help us. I also think he’s a coach who can be here for a long time and that would be great because we’d finally have stability with the coaching staff, which is important.
Two days later, after an examination by a team doctor, Hornets officials announced Clifford would take an indefinite medical leave of absence. He spent 5½ weeks away from the Hornets. After a barrage of medical tests ruled out a brain tumor or a stroke or something else, doctors determined that a persistent lack of sleep had caused Clifford’s debilitating headaches. A neurologist informed Clifford he needed to do more than change the way he worked; Clifford needed to change the way he lived. He needed to devote more time to sleeping. “Going through it was professionally the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to go through,” Clifford says now. “It impacted our team in a bad way. I feel terrible about it. Now, personally, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Marvin Williams, a Hornets forward who played four seasons with Clifford as his coach, recalls the team plane landing from road games sometimes at 2 a.m. and then Clifford being in his office at the arena at 5:30 or 6 in the morning. “That’s how much it meant to him,” Williams says. “He was constantly watching film on us, trying to figure out ways to make us better, trying to figure out the scout[ing report] for the next team. That goes back to him being prepared all the time. That was just the everyday norm for him, and obviously it just kind of caught up to him. I think it wore him down a little bit.”
When Clifford’s leave of absence started, he could not sleep more than five consecutive hours, no matter how hard he tried to do so. He had to retrain his body. Sleep now is a priority. These days, he’ll still stay up late to watch a game, he says. But instead of waking up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. no matter what, he’ll instead set his alarm for 6:45 or 7 a.m. Clifford also delegated to his assistant coaches a bit more than he had done in the past. On some occasions, Williams says, Clifford had his assistants run some of the shootarounds or a few of the practices.
The Magic hired Clifford as their new coach Wednesday, signing him to a four-year contract to help transform the franchise from a perennial doormat to a contender. “I’m not betting on something that I don’t know,” said Jeff Weltman, the Magic’s president of basketball operations. “Steve Clifford has proven himself to be an elite-level NBA coach in addition to having great personal skills, player-development abilities [and] all the organizational bullet points that we had hoped to address.”