5 potential replacements for Steve Clifford as Magic head coach

Magic, Steve Clifford

Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic need a new head coach after parting ways with Steve Clifford.

It was clear at the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline that the Orlando Magic were heading in a new direction. Saturday’s news only reinforced that path.

After several meetings between team management and head coach Steve Clifford, the two sides mutually agreed to part ways, paving the way for the full-scale rebuild Orlando embraced when it shipped off Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier just before the trade deadline.

While the Clifford decision may have been mutual, it still leaves the Magic searching for a new head coach as the franchise prepares to undergo the rebuild it should’ve committed to much sooner. The Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers also have head coaching vacancies, which puts Orlando in a tough spot, since their gig is easily the least attractive of the three.

While the Magic job would come with more patience and job stability since this is a young team, there is no Damian Lillard or Jayson Tatum in Orlando. There may not even be a Jaylen Brown or CJ McCollum. The Magic have a few promising youngsters in Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Harris, RJ Hampton and Mohamed Bamba, but none is a sure thing, and many of them are still rehabbing from injury.

That means several common candidates whose names have come up — Chauncey Billups, Sam Cassell — may not have an interest compared to other openings. Mike D’Antoni is another current assistant who may prefer sticking with his buddy Steve Nash on a title contender like the Brooklyn Nets, biding his time for the right vacancy to open up before becoming a head coach again. Assistant coach Tyrone Corbin is an option, but he’s easily the least attractive compared to these five candidates who deserve a more serious look as Clifford’s replacement.

Honorable mentions: Tyrone Corbin, Jay Larranaga, Mike D’Antoni, Lloyd Pierce, Chauncey Billups, Sam Cassell, Wes Unseld Jr., Jarron Collins, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson

5. Becky Hammon

We keep saying it’s only a matter of time until Becky Hammon becomes the NBA’s first female head coach, but it actually requires one of these teams to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. Maybe the Magic, searching for someone fresh who can usher in a new era as a developmental coach, will finally be the ones to give Hammon a well-deserved look?

After a decorated playing career in the WNBA, Hammon became an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014 and has been there ever since. She’s coached their Summer League team to a championship and became the first female acting head coach in NBA history when Gregg Popovich got ejected from a game last December.

Like D’Antoni, Billups and Cassell, however, Hammon may prefer to continue biding her time for the right opening. That’s a riskier move in a male-dominated league where she has not gotten the same opportunities as some of her male colleagues, but if the Spurs are grooming her for command behind Pop a la Jon Snow, would she really abandon the Watch now for a post in Orlando? Maybe waiting just a little bit longer to succeed Popovich is the plan down in Texas.

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