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Charlotte Hornets hire Celtics assistant coach Charles Lee as their next head coach: Hartford Courant

By STEVE REED (AP Sports Writer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Charlotte Hornets named Charles Lee as their head coach Thursday, hoping he will turn around the long-struggling NBA franchise.

Lee, 39, joins the Hornets after serving as the Boston Celtics’ top assistant coach. Lee will complete the Celtics’ playoff run before joining the Hornets full-time. Lee spent five seasons under Mike Budenholzer before joining the Celtics last summer.

Lee was signed to a four-year contract by the Hornets, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because terms of the deal were not made public.

Lee replaces Steve Clifford, who announced before the end of the regular season that he would step down as Hornets coach after two seasons in his second stint with the club. The Hornets finished 21-61 this season and were tied with the Portland Trail Blazers for the third-worst record in the league.

“The Hornets have a talented young core of players and I am excited about our future and what we can build here,” Lee said. “There are few places as passionate about basketball as the Carolinas, and I’m excited to come to Charlotte and get started.”

Lee is highly respected in NBA circles as a potential rising star in the coaching ranks.

He led the Milwaukee Bucks to the 2020-2021 NBA Championship as associate head coach. Over his ten NBA seasons, Lee’s teams have compiled a 510–291 (.637) regular-season record, reached the playoffs nine times, captured seven division titles and won five Eastern Conference No. 1 seeds earned.

In four of the past six seasons, Lee has helped teams finish the regular season with the best record in the NBA.

This season, the Celtics finished the regular season with the NBA’s highest record (64–18), marking the fourth-most wins in a season in franchise history. The Celtics led the NBA in offensive rating and net rating, while finishing third in defensive rating.

In Charlotte, Lee inherits a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in eight seasons, the longest drought in the league. Charlotte hasn’t won a playoff series in 22 years, a span that spanned more than a decade with NBA great Michael Jordan as owner.

Jordan sold the Hornets last year to Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin. The co-owners have since been busy replacing general manager Mitch Kupchak – who also resigned – with Jeff Peterson.

Lee will oversee the reconstruction along with Peterson.

“His high character and ability to connect with players while creating a culture of accountability will serve us well as we build a competitive team built for long-term success,” Peterson said in a statement. press release. “Charles comes from a championship background with a wide range of basketball knowledge and NBA experience, has a great work ethic and is a great communicator. He shares our vision for this organization and I look forward to working with him to build something special here in the Carolinas.

The Hornets traded Gordon Hayward to Oklahoma City, Terry Rozier to Miami and PJ Washington to Dallas before the deadline in moves that brought Tre Mann, Vasa Micic, Grant Williams, Seth Curry and Davis Bertans to Charlotte.

The Hornets have some young talent to build around, including last year’s second overall pick Brandon Miller, 2022 All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball and center Mark Williams, although the latter two have struggled to stay on the court due to injuries. Miller averaged 17.3 points per game as a rookie while shooting 37% from three-point range.

Lee got his start as a coach at his alma mater, Bucknell University, where he was an assistant for two seasons (2012-2014). During his time as a player, he led the Bison to two Patriot League titles and the only two NCAA Tournament victories in school history, including a win over No. 3 Kansas as a No. 14 seed in 2005. He was drafted into the Bucknell Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017. He then played four professional seasons abroad in Israel, Belgium and Germany.

The Hornets said Lee will be introduced at a news conference after the Celtics’ playoffs.