Steve Clifford won't return as coach of Orlando Magic

As the Orlando Magic move into a full rebuilding process, coach Steve Clifford and the franchise have together agreed to a parting, the team announced Saturday.

Clifford, who led the Magic to the playoffs in successive seasons before this year, had several meetings with management over recent weeks that ultimately led to what president Jeff Weltman described as a "mutual decision."

In the end, the timelines of the Magic's rebuild and Clifford's station were no longer aligned.

"Obviously, we've repositioned our team," Weltman told reporters during a news conference Saturday. "And so, there has to be alignment. There has to be alignment in everything you do in this league. And if there's not alignment, it'll undermine everything."

The Magic will commence a coaching search immediately, joining Boston and Portland with current openings.

Weltman and Magic general manager John Hammond hired Clifford upon arriving in Orlando three years ago, with hopes of him returning the franchise to the playoffs. He did so twice before season-ending injuries to two starters and a trade-deadline unloading of All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and guard Evan Fournier for multiple future draft picks changed the trajectory of the franchise.

"The 'why' is quite simple here: alignment," Weltman said. "And if Cliff is questioning whether the positioning of our team kind of aligns with his own career positioning, then he's probably not the right guy at that point. I appreciate the fact that Cliff can look himself in the mirror and have those conversations with himself because I don't think a whole lot of people can do that."

Clifford, 59, had one year left on his original four-year contract, sources told ESPN.

"I would like to thank the DeVos family, Magic leadership and the entire staff, and certainly wish everyone well," Clifford said in a statement released by the team. "It's been an honor and privilege to coach this team in this community."

He finishes with a 96-131 mark in three years in Orlando, including two playoff seasons. Orlando finished 21-51 this season, cycling several young players and 10-day-contract performers through the lineup.

Clifford missed some games near the end of the season after testing positive for COVID-19. He had been vaccinated just as the positive test results came back, was asymptomatic and returned for the season's final few days.

"Both sides wanted to do this the right way for one another, and I think that we moved as expeditiously as possible to this conclusion,'' Weltman said.

Clifford has reached the playoffs four times in eight seasons between his two head-coaching jobs in Charlotte and Orlando.

He has had health issues in the past. He missed 21 games during the 2017-18 season when he coached in Charlotte after problems caused by sleep deprivation, and he left a game at Minnesota in March 2020 after experiencing dizziness caused by dehydration.

Weltman said that jobs coming open didn't affect the Magic's timetable. For now, the assistant coaches -- a group that includes Ty Corbin, Steve Hetzel and Pat Delany -- remain in place.

The Magic will likely have two lottery picks in this year's draft. The next coach will be the team's sixth since February 2015, following Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego, Scott Skiles, Frank Vogel and Clifford.

"We won't leave any stone unturned, I can tell you that," Weltman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.