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Steve Clifford talks offense, LaMelo Ball at Charlotte (re-)introduction

Clifford enters as the second-winningest coach in team history, needing only 12 more wins to take the top spot from Allan Bristow.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Just a few nights after firing Steve Clifford in 2018, Hornets General Manager Mitch Kupchak actually sat down with him for dinner and assumed the lease on his Uptown apartment. 

In fact, the relationship was kept so intact between Clifford, Kupchak, and owner Michael Jordan that when the coaching search hit a bump in the road, it was natural to bring back Clifford.

"This is an exciting time for this franchise," Clifford said.

Clifford would know. 

He was hired by the then-Bobcats in 2013 and guided his teams to two playoff appearances in five years.

And here's a rarity for a coaching hire: Clifford enters as the second-winningest coach in team history, needing only 12 more wins to take the top spot from Allan Bristow.

And he's expected to get many more than that this year. 

This might be the most talented roster Clifford has ever had in this town.

He thinks so.

"Yeah. I do," he said. "I mean one of the things you look for is the potential for growth when you watch film. And I think this is a group that can get better and better."

Clifford says he understands his firing four years ago and after that, he went to Orlando and led the Magic to two playoff appearances in three seasons.

The detailed and defensive-minded coach says he's changed a bit though and understands this group, led by budding star guard LaMelo Ball, will need to continue to play with their fast offensive pace.

"Offense so much starts with playing with the strengths of your best players," Clifford said. "He's a great talent with a passion for the game and a flare for playing in the open court. And we want to take advantage of that. We're playing quicker league-wide than we did when I was here before."

Those of us who have covered Clifford in the past were not surprised to hear him say that he cannot wait to "sit down, shut the door and watch film."

That's presumably what he was ready to do when immediately after his news conference was over, he ran off stage right, past the celebratory refreshments in his honor, and headed up to his new, or old, office. 

Contact Nick Carboni at ncarboni@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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