Steve Clifford ends Hornets coaching tenure as winningest coach in franchise history

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Steve Clifford ended his Charlotte coaching tenure on Sunday as the winningest coach in franchise history.

Clifford expects to remain with the franchise as an advisor. He announced in early April this season would be his last, saying the grind of 82 games has become too much for him at 62 years old.

“I’m really proud of all of our guys, but tomorrow, for sure, I’ll reflect back on everything,” he said, breaking into a sly smile after his team beat the playoff-bound Cleveland Cavaliers 120-110. “And I am hopeful that the fingerprint reader still works and lets me in the building.”

Clifford has spent seven total seasons with the Hornets, including the past two, and is their leader in games coached (574) and wins (244).

Clifford’s next role has yet to be defined by new general manager Jeff Peterson, but he is eager to help Charlotte build off an injury-plagued season that saw it post the third-worst record in the East at 21-61.

“I’m going to think about this win a little bit, but I’m going to move on quickly because I’m excited about this next opportunity,” Clifford said. “I’m going to learn a lot and, hopefully, I can contribute.”

Rookie guard Nick Smith Jr. was pleased the Hornets sent Clifford off with a victory, ending the game on an 18-2 run over the fourth-seeded Cavaliers.

“Even though it was the last game, coach wanted us to keep playing hard,” Smith said. “I ain’t gonna lie, I’m happy as hell because we came out and played hard and got the W.”

Charlotte will build around forward Brandon Miller, the second-leading scorer among rookies at 17.3 per game, and hopes to have former All-Star guard LaMelo Ball healthy for training camp. Ball was limited to 22 games because of right ankle tendinopathy.

The Hornets also own their first-round pick and are in the May 12 draft lottery.

“The whole thing depends on the summer because you want to have development with these young players, and also through the roster,” Clifford said. “There were key, key guys that didn’t play a lot of games this year, so their offseason is big, as well.”

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