MIAMI — The Orlando Magic's rebuilding project will not include Steve Clifford, with the team and their coach announcing Saturday that his three-year run there is over.
Clifford was 96-131 in those three seasons, though that record is a bit misleading given how many injuries the team dealt with this season. Orlando went to the playoffs in 2019 and 2020 under Clifford, its first postseason trips since a run of six straight ended in 2012.
But this season was trying in no shortage of ways. Injuries gutted the Magic, and then the team's core — All-Star forward Nikola Vucevic, guard Evan Fournier and forward Aaron Gordon — were all moved at the trade deadline as Orlando went younger and stockpiled draft picks for the rebuild.
“It’s the toughest season I’ve ever been through,” Clifford said as the season ended.
The team said it was a mutual decision. Orlando was 21-51 this season, and Magic President Jeff Weltman indicated Saturday that Clifford might not have wanted to be part of a long rebuild around young players and draft picks.
“We would like to thank Steve for his contributions to the Orlando Magic,” Weltman said. “We appreciate the many sacrifices he has made as our head coach and understand the timeline of our new path does not align with his goals as a head coach in our league.”
ESPN first reported the decision.
Orlando becomes the third coaching opening in the NBA, following Brad Stevens being promoted to president of the Boston Celtics and Portland’s move Friday to seek a new coach after Terry Stotts held that role for nine seasons.
Injuries were a huge issue for Orlando this season. Jonathan Isaac didn’t play at all this season because of the knee injury last August in the NBA’s restart bubble. Markelle Fultz was lost for this season early on with a knee issue.
The Magic went with young and different lineups over the season’s final six weeks and will likely have two lottery picks in this year's draft. But the task of forming a winner from that group will fall to a different coach.
The next coach will be Orlando's sixth since February 2015, following Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego, Scott Skiles, Frank Vogel and Clifford.
“It’s been an honor and privilege to coach this team in this community," Clifford said.
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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press