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Hornets coach Steve Clifford to take leave of absence

Rick Bonnell, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Basketball

The Charlotte Hornets' Steve Clifford might not be coaching right now, but he hasn't stopped being a coach.

"I texted him yesterday to wish him a quick recovery," Hornets guard Nic Batum said at shootaround Wednesday. "He responded, 'Kick ass,' That's it."

The Hornets announced Wednesday morning that Clifford will be away from the team for "the immediate future," to address his health. The Hornets didn't provide details of what is ailing Clifford, and said there is no timetable for his return.

Clifford wasn't at shootaround Monday morning before the Hornets' home victory over the Orlando Magic. Associate head coach Stephen Silas is in charge in Clifford's absence. Silas will coach the Hornets against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night.

Clifford is in his fifth season as Hornets coach. Early in his first season, he missed time while hospitalized with chest pains. However, a source said Clifford's current condition isn't considered heart-related.

Silas has some NBA head-coaching experience beyond Monday night's victory over the Magic. During the 2011-12 season, when Silas was an assistant to his father, Paul, ownership approved Stephen Silas coaching a handful of games with Paul on the bench.

Silas was a finalist in spring of 2016 for the head-coaching job with the Houston Rockets. The Rockets ultimately hired Mike D'Antoni.

Silas said he's had some discussion with Clifford, mostly via text, but Clifford has told him to go with his instincts.

"Obviously, Cliff not being here weighs on all of us," Silas said at morning shootaround. "To think about Golden State, and all the problems they cause, is kind of tough, but it's part of the job. He wouldn't want it to be any other way. I've got to fill his shoes and keep the ship afloat while he's gone.

"We talked a little bit about playing groups this morning, but not much at all. He kind of just wants me to do my thing. I texted him last night that I'd be leaning on him for some help. And he said, 'You don't need any help; you just do what you do.' "

This is Silas' first season as Clifford's lead assistant, after Patrick Ewing left the staff last spring to coach his alma mater, Georgetown.

 

Hornets forward Marvin Williams said at practice Tuesday that Silas didn't look anything like a rookie head coach Monday night.

"It looked really easy to him," Williams said. "Obviously, growing up watching his father play and his father coach, and being a coach for so long, I don't feel like he missed a beat out there. He didn't seem uncomfortable. Like a normal, regular game for us."

Paul Silas wasn't given a contract extension by the then-Bobcats beyond 2012. Stephen Silas remained on the staff, working with Mike Dunlap and Clifford.

"I've been preparing to be a head coach basically for all my life," Silas said. "To get the opportunity under these circumstances is not great at all, but it's kind of what I've been preparing for."

This is a key stretch of the schedule for the 9-13 Hornets. Starting Monday against Orlando, they play 10 of 13 at home. Point guard Kemba Walker said they have to stay on task, even with Clifford away from the team.

"Even though he's not here, we have to move forward," Walker said. "It's just like a player going down (with injury): next man up. We've got to move forward and get a win. And I'm pretty sure coach (thinks) the same way."

(c)2017 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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