Skip to main content

Everything Steve Clifford Said at Hornets Media Day 2022

"New" Hornets head coach Steve Clifford discussed the upcoming season with the media on Monday.

“What's the status with Miles, where do you sit with that and is he a part of the team?”

“It’s a legal issue and I've been told to not speak about any aspect of it, so it’s not something that I can speak on.”

“Away from the legal part of it, does it make it more difficult to move forward? And how do you move forward without him being here with him being a restricted free agent? What are your plans to move forward with filling that spot in case he is not here?”

“One of the first things you find out in this league is every day is about who is ready, who is active, who is not going to be active, and then what do we have to do today to be prepared for tomorrow? So, when you play 82 games, you're going to have injuries, you’re going to have guys out, COVID has been a big factor in all this, and you have to be adaptable in your thinking, making sure you have plan B, plan C with your playing groups, and this is really a similar situation to where it is part of coaching in this league. So, I feel like again I have a lot of guys that have been around in my staff with veteran coaches, and I think you just get used to the fact that there are the 11 guys that look good tonight and what gives us the best chance to win with these 11 guys.”

“Is there any plan for the preseason, or even the season in general with Gordon and given the last couple seasons and how injuries have gone with him?”

“Yeah, for sure, I mean he has had a terrific offseason and he has done a lot of work. Joe Sharpe obviously monitors everything he does very closely, it sounds to me that Gordon is in a really good place, but we have already met with him, once I speak with Joe (Sharpe) I’ll meet with him again and we will have a plan. He is a terrific player and such an important player for us and for sure there will be a plan in place where he rests as needed.”

“In the last 2 years Trae Young with Atlanta helped them get to the Eastern Conference Finals, and last year Luka with Dallas helped them get to the Western Conference Finals. With a player like LaMelo who is a similar vein of type of player, what do you think ‘Melo has to do to elevate his game to elevate the Hornets to higher levels?”

“Actually, I think not that much to be honest with you, if you want to look at his offensive efficiency there are a couple things that are not major major things that he knows he can do. Like for instance he is terrific at getting to the rim and does not get fouled a lot, that is one of the things that we have watched film on, and we have actually been working with an ex-NBA official who is working with him now and will continue to work with him. He does a lot with Marlon Garnett on drawing fouls, and to be honest if he can attempt three more free throws per game that would be a game-changer for him and for our team. I know there are things he wants to concentrate on that he will talk about like being a better organizer, you know that could be part of it too, but if you want to look at his offensive efficiency, and the only place he isn't efficient is close to the basket. He is a good range shooter, his pull up numbers are not extraordinary, but they are good, they are good enough to win. He doesn’t turn the ball over a lot for a guy who has such large usage. So, there are things like that we have talked about but I think that if you want to pick one thing, he can get to the free-throw line more, and it would be a game-changer. I mean the one other thing you can say along those lines is, and those two guys are great players, Trae Young is playing with a much more veteran team, and they made their moves two years ago. They were young and developing and they went out in the offseason and said, ‘Okay, let's get veteran guys and try and win in the playoffs.’ So they went out and got Capela at the end of the year, they went out and got Bogdanovic, Gallinari. They are in a much different place, that hasn’t been done here yet. Then in terms of Luka, same thing. He plays with a veteran team, so I think that is a big part of it too.”

“Would you like him to shoot a few more too, because I feel like those two throw up a few more shots than he does also.”

“Yeah, I mean to me it is efficiency, and he scores a lot of points at a good efficiency. Our problems are not with scoring, so if you look at how are we going to get better, I think one of the things that happens is this, with every player, it’s a great question comparing them with other guys his age that look like they have accomplished more. Well, there are two parts. One, it depends on who you're playing with and when you're the better player you get picked apart. If you want to break down Luka or Trae, there would be things they could get better at also. But I do think the better players, particularly locally, it's easy to say he doesn't do this, doesn’t do this, doesn’t do this. Where obviously I think you just sit down and have a good talk. He has had a really good summer. I think he is locked in to a couple of things that can make a significant difference, and then like every other player on the team things, like you wouldn’t see in the numbers or in practice every day, like can you be a better help defender, can you be a better pick and roll defender? He has two real strengths defensively people never talk about; he steals the ball a ton and is an exceptional defensive rebounder. Everyone will always start with his defense; well, those are two things that not many point guards do either one of those and those are both things that lead directly to good play. So I think sometimes it is fair. If we don’t have playoff success in the next couple of years, it’s the head coach and the best player, and I mean that’s fair, that’s the way it works. He knows that. He is a very competitive guy who has a passion for the game, so he is locked in to things, but there are a lot of aspects that go along with that I guess is what I'm saying”

“The Hawks team that you were talking about, in addition to getting some extra pieces when they made that run, a lot of their young players got better around Trae Young. And similarly with Memphis making a big jump and that wasn’t only with Ja Morant getting a lot better, but a lot of their young recently-drafted guys made big jumps, when you look at the rest of this roster, and recent first-round picks, and most recent first-round pick like Mark Williams, do you see a similar jump coming in talent level with this team?”

“I think there are a bunch of guys that can emerge to be honest with you. I don’t even want to get into it, but Mark is made for the NBA game because he is a rim protector, he is smart, he is going to be able to shoot 3s. It may not be this year, it is not right now, but he will be able to do that. We have a bunch of guys that have had a great summer. JT Thor has had a really good summer. I think he is versatile, he has size and can be a two-way player. James Bouknight has had a really good end of the summer. He has positional size, can play off the dribble, he can play both in transition and in the half court. I mean I could go on and on. That is going to play out. And again, we are still younger than Memphis and they made the one trade which is the game-changer. There are only so many Trae Youngs, Ja Morants and LaMelos, but those guys make a difference. But a lot of the other guys play better because you pick up some veteran players that make the game easier for everybody.”

“Will more be placed on PJ Washington this year?”

“I've been happy with him. He came out to Vegas, that was the first time that I really got to spend time with him. He came out to Vegas for Summer League and spent some time working out with coaches, and he does a lot with Jay Hernandez. They have a good working relationship. My thing about him is his role, in terms of what he should be thinking. This is what I told him: ‘It doesn’t matter who else is there.’ He is going to be a big part of this team, and if we are going to take a step and become a legitimate playoff team, he is going to be on the floor 28 to 30 minutes and he is going to be a big part of it. He can play well at both ends of the floor and he gives you roster versatility because he can play the 4 or the 5 and can defend different perimeter players. He is a talented player and I think he finished this season on a good note and had a good summer.”

“One more thing on Miles if you can speak to this, you guys had a chance July 13th to rescind the qualifying offer...”

“I can't.”

“What is the optimism with moving forward with this team, because you didn’t make a whole lot of moves this offseason? Why should fans think this team is going to be better?”

“Well, I think that there are guys that can emerge to be honest with you. I think that also, you guys are going to be sick of me saying this, but it's really what I believe. People always want to bring up when you talk about these superlatives and intangibles and all that, and at the end of the day, it's how well you play. You know that’s what Miami does. What do they talk about? How well we play, how well we defend, how well we play offense, how balanced their game is, the best-balanced teams win, and to me we are not far from that. I know that defense wasn’t great, but there were things that they did do defensively. Like we were fifth in steals, second in converting steals into fastbreak points. When you're playing the good teams, those are the relief points you need to get over the top and not a lot of teams can do that. So that has to be a part of our defense. The things that we were not as good at defensively, that’s going to be a big part of training camp this first week, guard the ball, help, get back in transition, lock up. I think the transition part for sure is something we can get better at right away, but the reality to me is there is so much good here. Offensively, second in transition points and that's great. We are going to run, and this roster is built to run. The running part is good, and it fits our group, but the bigger part is the ball in the paint. Pace isn't even indicative many years of good offense. There are a lot of years where the better fast-breaking teams aren't even top-10 in offense. The team that hits the paint is always top-10 in offense. We are third in ball handling pace, that’s not easy and it’s a number of guys, so that leads to fifth in 3-point shooting, third in attacks at the rim, so you are going to score if you have the ability to do that and it opens up a lot of things. So to me, we have been able to watch a lot of film and put a good plan together for training camp where what we are going to try to do is build on all aspects of our offense really good and then try to improve the areas of defense that can impact us early in the season and go from there. Again, don’t get me wrong, guys are going to have to emerge. You know you're going to need a Comeback Player of the Year, someone that is All-Rookie team, someone who leads the league in rebounding that didn’t rebound last year. You always have that when you have good seasons.”

“Have you had the talk with some of the leaders on the team regarding having a key guy out, we are really going to need to really step up in production this year?”

“We just met this morning and we have had good participation here all September. All of these guys have been in here a lot and you know sometimes you just have a feel, instead of having an hour and a half long meeting, I talk too much anyways, maybe 20 minutes. It was probably like a 20-minute meeting and I think they want to practice, so we did it this morning before we started. I think the thing is, a coach-player relationship if you want it to be legitimate, is like any other one, you can fake these things, ‘Oh we have known each other six weeks and start saying I love the way he coaches, or I love the way he plays.’ We haven't been through anything yet. So to me, so much of it, to build a true culture, true culture is going to be built when we lose three games in a row and they see how I react, and I see how they react. Then how we communicate together and work together. That’s how you build the culture. You can change an environment right away, that can start tomorrow. It can be different, it might be the same. The first time a guy doesn’t run back on defense or the first time a guy doesn’t block out, I can blow the whistle and play coach and do all that or not, but I do think the things you are talking about is you make a mistake and with today's athlete, you make a mistake as a head coach thinking you can impact on these things before you really know them. I'm just getting to know them that’s why I think these three weeks are so critical of how we practice, how we learn to communicate, the good days, the bad days, because we’ll have both. How I respond, how they respond to that, how we work it out together, and then I think some of those talks can have more of an impact. I'm very hesitant to stop really trying to say all of these profound things to players before you really know them, and we are just getting there.”

“News out of today and signing LiAngelo, realistically, what are you looking for from him and how likely is it that he sticks around a little longer?”

“Well, he played with us in Summer League and has been with us for a good part of the summer, and a member of our G League last year. He did a lot of the optional workouts around here and he is a good guy to have around. He is tough, he can really shoot, he likes to be in the gym and he is a good worker. He is the kind of guy you want at camp. He is going to make camp better, and again it is going to play out as we go along.”

“To follow up on something you shared Friday in your reason it is important to come back to an organization where you have coach was really attaining that playoff success; what do you take from your coaching philosophy that you bring with you this time and what adjustments are you looking to make in having that time away?”

“The thing I learned here particularly in the fourth year and the fifth year of getting into the job is you’ve got to start at the beginning every year. We had been so good defensively and the third year was fun because we had gotten a lot better offensively too so we were top-10 in offense and defense. In the one offseason, we lost Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin and somebody else. We lost four of our top nine guys and a lot of points. I spent the whole summer on offense and offense and offense and we had always been top-10 on defense, we were like ninth and11th on offense and the defense was not terrible, but not even close to being good enough. So, the one thing I believe is you have to build a foundation of play, offensive, defense, and rebounding every year in camp, and you can't say it just because we have been good at this, we are going to be good at it again.”

“Expectation-wise for you guys it's just not very great about what people expect you guys to do. I'm sure you don’t really care about that I'm guessing, but can that motivate the team at all when they don’t think they can do that much on the exterior?”

“I think so, for sure. The one thing about the NBA, you guys know this whole thing can change quick now, a couple guys get hurt on the really good teams, and sometimes to be honest, the teams that go really deep in the playoffs, it's hard for them since those guys are tired and had a shorter offseason. This is what I told them this morning: let's not put any limits on how good we can be, and let’s not set a goal for today of what success is for our team. What I want to have is a great three weeks so we are going to have 14 practices, four shootarounds, one walkthrough in a ball room next Sunday in Boston and five exhibition games. Let's have a great attitude about embracing change, working on our team game, becoming more balanced in our play and how we approach the game, seeing if we can get better at those things and then sit down in three weeks and, ‘Okay here is where we are at, what do you think now?’ But right now, I want everyone locked in to the three weeks of progress, having great days, doing a good job at the exhibition games. Get our transition defense down, contain the ball better, continue to run. We were great last year when we stole the ball, we were great last year on misses. We were really poor, like 29th, when we were after makes, so let's see if we can get to 15th in that. Continue to force turnovers and score off those turnovers, so I mean I think that’s what we have got to be locked in to, developing a game that will allow us to play every night against the best teams. And if we do that with the talent in the room, I think we can be good.”

“When you told them that, what was the reaction, were they clapping how did they feel about...?”

“One guy raised his hand and said, ‘What did the media say when you told them that?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ Whenever you tell them how good they are, they agree. They didn’t say much. We will see tomorrow, and I'll have a better idea. I'll let you know.”

“Center has been kind of a position of question lately, you’ve drafted Mark, you have Nick Richards which you said you liked before, and you also have Kai Jones who has been a little bit of everywhere throughout the offseason including Summer League, what do you feel about the state of the position of center and your thoughts on Kai Jones being a little more versatile this year?”

“I think that we can be good. I think that we need physicality for sure within our play, within our group play. The areas where we have struggled, a lot of it would be physicality, screening, rebounding. I think those are things that we can work on here, and I love our schedule and the teams we are playing for that. Boston is big, strong, physical. Philadelphia, Indiana, Washington, those are good teams for us to gauge ourselves on. I think that those guys, when you put them all together, there are a lot of strengths there, and again I think it is going to play out in the next two or three weeks. Mason will start. If we had to play tonight, Nick Richards would be the backup. He has had a great summer and from Summer League to now he has made more improvements than anybody. Mark Williams is going to have the chance to be a terrific player and I think Summer League was great for him. I think that he got a glimpse of woah, this is a lot harder. So, I think all of those guys are going to get their chances. Kai to me right now is more of a center, he can play some 4. Even for our league he is an exceptional athlete, and physical. How quickly he puts himself in a place where he can legitimately play night in and night out in NBA games is just purpose of play, and for all young players, especially his size, that’s the hardest thing. Playing to your strengths and helping your teammates play to their strengths. All I know about him is he is a phenomenal worker, so we will see.”

“Local kid Isaiah Whaley, what does he bring to your team?”

“He is tough and he plays like a UConn kid actually. He is tough, versatile, a good worker. He has been here a lot. He was here for every workout in September and he did a good job. Again, he is at the very beginning so he will have to have a good training camp and go from there.”

You can follow us for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us Twitter:

Facebook - All Hornets

Twitter - @All_Hornets and Schuyler Callihan at @Callihan_.