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Clifford deal guaranteed for 3rd year

Making the playoffs in his first year with the Charlotte Hornets automatically triggered a team option for the 2015-16 season in coach Steve Clifford's contract, ESPN.com has learned.

League sources say Clifford's original three-year, $6 million deal to coach Michael Jordan's team now is a fully guaranteed three-year deal, thanks to the then-Bobcats' surprising 43-39 mark last season, which was good for the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The clause in Clifford's contract that led to the 2015-16 option being picked up was never announced publicly -- presumably because NBA teams generally don't reveal such contract specifics -- but sources say it was an automatic as soon as Charlotte qualified for the 2014 postseason.

The addition of an extra guaranteed season on Clifford's deal leaves Houston's Kevin McHale as the only current NBA coach working on the final year of his contract.

The new season, of course, has been a difficult one for Clifford and everyone in Charlotte. Lance Stephenson's slow start to get acclimated with his new team, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's health woes and the departure of versatile big man Josh McRoberts have contributed to a 5-15 start for the Hornets in their first year of a comprehensive rebranding and return to the franchise's original nickname and color scheme before the first edition of the Charlotte Hornets relocated to New Orleans in 2002.

Charlotte was widely expected to be a playoff team in the East again this season, despite the uncertainty about how Stephenson would acclimate himself in the wake of McRoberts' free-agent departure. The defensive strides made by the Hornets in Year 1 under Clifford last season, in support of the inside-outside scoring combo of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, largely fueled that optimism, but the Hornets lost 10 consecutive games before Walker's buzzer-beating layup Saturday night finally halted the skid and secured a 103-102 victory over the New York Knicks.