Steve Clifford: Lee Makes Us Smarter, Better On Offense

The Charlotte Hornets are 27-26 and clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. On the surface, that may not seem impressive.

Given that Al Jefferson (knee) has played in just two games since November 29, however, it is.

“Well, (things) changed a lot (when Jefferson went down),” Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We’re fortunate (with) what we had done over the summer. Last year, our biggest problem was our offense and our long-range shooting. Over the summer, (general manager) Rich Cho did a great job here of going out and bringing in guys that both could shoot the three and then also give us different ways to create the three. For the past couple years, our main areas of offense where we could draw help and create problems for the defenses were Al in the post and Kemba (Walker creating).”

Charlotte, though, added several quality players this year, including Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky.

“We added a lot more skill and a lot more shooting,” Clifford said. “When Al went down, we’ve become much more of a ball-movement, multiple-pick-and-roll, multiple-dribble-handoff team. We’ve done fine with it. I think right now we’re 12th in offense and the nights when we shoot the ball well, we’re very good.”

Jefferson, it is worth noting, practiced Wednesday and might play Friday in Milwaukee. He is averaging 12.5 points and 6.1 rebounds in 19 games this season.

“Al’s ready to come back.” Clifford said. “If we combine what we’ve (been doing) without him to his effectiveness in the post, I think we could really have some fun here this last 29 games.”

Charlotte acquired Courtney Lee from Memphis in a three-team trade Tuesday, but Clifford doesn’t expect more movement before Thursday’s deadline.

“I think getting Courtney is a really good addition for our team,” Clifford said. “He’s very smart and very dependable. He started on the team we had in Orlando that went to the Finals. I think he makes us smarter, I think he makes us better on offense, and I also think he’s a very solid defender.”

Lee, 30, averaged 10.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 51 games (37 starts) for the Grizzlies this season.

“I think that we helped ourselves with that trade,” Clifford said. “I don’t see – unless something really, really surprising happens in the next day or so – that we would be making a big move, though.”

Clifford, 54, was also asked about his one year coaching Kobe Bryant. Clifford was an assistant under Mike D’Antonio in Los Angeles in 2012-13.

“(Kobe’s) intensity and his passion for details is – I mean, I’ve been around some other guys (who were similar),” Clifford said. “(Shane) Battier was very detailed. Charlie Ward was very detailed. But Kobe is just so into every aspect. . . . In a  general sense, when people ask me about him, to me, what separates him from any other guy that I’ve ever been around is the passion to prepare to win. Being around him for a year was an incredible learning experience.”

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