Sunday, August 19, 2012

Former MAAC Ass't Clifford Joins NBA Lakers' Staff

NBA superstar center Dwight Howard might have disliked former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy enough to get Van Gundy fired this past season, but it appears he has a good relationship with another former Magic coach who has some MAAC ties.

That would be Steve Clifford, who coached as a MAAC assistant for one season (1994-95) at Siena and one season (1989-90) at Fairfield.

Barely a week after the four-team trade that sent Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers recently, Clifford also moved to the City of Angels with the announcement earlier this week that he was joining Laker coach Mike Brown's staff as an assistant.

Clifford, over the years, has developed a very solid reputation as a defensive-minded coach and his work with Howard not only helped turn the 6-foot-11 big man into one of the league's best interior defenders but also kept the Magic in the top 10 in defensive stats all five years that Clifford was with the Orlando franchise.

The upcoming season will be the 13th that Clifford has been in the NBA which makes him, according to my reckoning, the longest-tenured former MAAC coach in terms of NBA experience.

Clifford might well eventually become an NBA head coach, and nearly did this off season getting some consideration both with the Magic and with the Portland TrailBlazers, where he was one of only four candidates to be interviewed for that position, according to a variety of reports.

Clifford has also been on Siena's radar often during coaching searches there over the years, but timing and circumstances never meshed.

Still, he was a solid candidate for the job prior to the 2000-01 season, but Siena instead went with Louis Orr (wrong choice, it says here).

Orr lasted all of 49 weeks before using the Siena position as a launching pad into the Seton Hall coaching job.

When Orr vacated, a variety of sources (including my work in newspaper field) reported that Clifford was the top choice to take the Siena job.

At the time, though, he was just finishing up his first year in the NBA as an advance scout for the New York Knicks. At the time, that franchise had a bench assistant move on Clifford opted to stay in the NBA to become an assistant rather than taking the Siena position (which eventually went to Rob Lanier).

Clifford's move to the NBA, too, is an interesting story. He was the head coach at Division II Adelphi during the 1998-99 season, a year in which the NBA had a work stoppage.

Coaches could have no contact with players, and then-Knicks' coach Jeff Van Gundy was looking for some basketball-related activities to keep him occupied during the lockout.

Adelphi, in Garden City, N.Y. (Long Island), was the program most-proximitous to his home and, one day, he called Clifford to informally offer his services at Adelphi's practices.

Through that connection, Clifford developed a friendship/working relationship with Van Gundy. When Van Gundy had an opening as an advance scout with the Knicks in 2000, he hired Clifford.

Those two were together not only with the Knicks, but also when Van Gundy coached the Houston Rockets (2003-07). When Van Gundy eventually parted ways with the Rockets, Clifford was hired by the other NBA Van Gundy, Stan, to be an assistant with the Magic (2007-12).

The rest, as they say, is history ... a very productive and lengthy history for Clifford, a former MAAC assistant coach, who will continue to work with some of the sport's best players for what will be his 13th NBA season.

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