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Steve Clifford is out after 3 seasons as Orlando Magic coach

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STEVE Clifford and Orlando Magic took some time after the season to rest, relax and think about the future.

And after a couple of weeks, they decided the fit was no longer right.

Orlando’s rebuilding project will no longer involve Clifford after he and Magic reached an agreement on Saturday (Sunday, Manila time) to end his three-year career with the club. Magic President Jeff Weltman said it was a mutual decision and he respected Clifford for “being able to gauge where he is in his career.”

“Of course we have reorganized our team,” said Weltman. “So there has to be alignment. There has to be alignment in everything you do in this league. And if there is no alignment, it will all be undermined. “

This alignment clearly seemed absent. Weltman pointed out that Clifford – who will turn 60 before the start of next season – has decided that he is not the right coach to lead the Magic through potentially serious growing pains with a young group.

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“The ‘why’ here is very simple: alignment,” Weltman said. “And if Cliff is wondering if our team’s positioning somehow aligns with his own career position, he’s probably not right at this point. I appreciate the fact that Cliff can look himself in the mirror and have these conversations with himself, “because I don’t think a lot of people can.”

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Orlando is the third current coaching position in the NBA after Brad Stevens was promoted to president of the Boston Celtics and Portland is looking for a new coach on Friday after Terry Stotts held that role for nine years.

Open positions would not affect Magic’s schedule, Weltman said. Nor did he say whether the team has a target date for hiring. For now, the assistant coaches – a group that includes Ty Corbin, Steve Hetzel, and Pat Delany – are staying in place, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some got at least one meeting with Magic during the interview process.

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Clifford was 96-131 for those three seasons, although that record is a little misleading considering how many injuries the team has had that season. Orlando went to playoffs under Clifford in 2019 and 2020, his first post-season trips in a run of six in a row in 2012.

“Both sides wanted to do this right for each other and I think we came to that conclusion as soon as possible,” said Weltman.

But this season it wasn’t in terms of opportunities. Injuries gutted the Magic, and then the core of the team – all-star striker Nikola Vucevic, guard Evan Fournier and forward Aaron Gordon – all postponed until close of trade when Orlando got younger and stocked up draft picks for rebuilding.

“It’s the toughest season I’ve ever had,” said Clifford at the end of the season.

PHOTO: AP

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Orlando was 21-51 years old this season, and Clifford missed a few games towards the end of the season after testing positive for COVID-19. He had been vaccinated when the positive test results came back, was asymptomatic, and was returning for the final days of the season.

Clifford has dealt with health issues in the past. He missed 21 games in the 2017-18 season when he trained in Charlotte after experiencing sleep deprivation problems, and he left a game in Minnesota in March 2020 after feeling dizzy from dehydration.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to train this team in this community,” said Clifford.

After the trades, the Magic went with boys and diverse lineups for the last six weeks of the season and will likely have two lottery picks in this year’s draft. But the task of forming a winner out of this group falls to a different coach.

The next coach will be Orlando’s sixth coach since February 2015, followed by Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego, Scott Skiles, Frank Vogel and Clifford.

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“We will leave no stone unturned, I can tell you,” Weltman said.

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Janet Smith