The first big set of moves of the Mitch Kupchak era in Charlotte saw the team cast off its analytics department, its training staff, and its coaching staff, including head coach Steve Clifford:
It was probably time for the Hornets to acknowledge just how lousy and irrelevant they’ve become: they’ve won 36 games in each of the past two seasons, after winning 48 in 2016; Kemba Walker’s two best seasons as a pro have yielded exactly zero playoff appearances; the roster is virtually bereft of playmaking talent outside of Walker. There is absolutely no reason to believe the Hornets will be any closer to genuine relevance next season, when their payroll is forecast to increase by $2 million, before they even get around to adding good players to their roster.
Clifford has taken some shit for being stingy with minutes for young players, and at a certain point a head coach has to be held accountable for his team’s lack of progress, but, damn: Charlotte’s team-building strategy over the last decade has been a chaotic mess. Since the team drafted Kemba in 2011, they’ve spent eight first-round draft picks on exactly one sure-fire starter, and his name is Tobias Harris, and he played exactly zero games for the Hornets. The team spent heavily to bring in or keep Al Jefferson, Nic Batum, and Dwight Howard, replaced the excellent Jeremy Lin with the almost useless Ramon Sessions, turned down a wealth of picks in order to draft Frank Kaminsky, and never came close to developing a half-decent bench. Michael Carter-Williams was Kemba’s primary backup this season, for crying out loud. Malik Monk might turn out to be a fine NBA player, but the Hornets drafted him over Donovan Mitchell, and that is a choice that is likely to be remembered bitterly for a long time.
Clifford’s teams, poorly assembled though they may have been, were consistently good defensively, consistently owned the glass, and consistently limited mistakes and turnovers. Those are hallmarks of a well-coached, disciplined team! But Charlotte slipped from 9th to 14th to 16th in defensive efficiency over the last three seasons, and never made big strides offensively to offset that trend, and that’s pretty much a recipe for mediocrity. So firing Clifford isn’t exactly throwing the baby out with the bath water, but he’s been a good NBA coach, and until the Hornets are able to overhaul this crappy roster, they’ll be hard-pressed to do a whole lot better.