- Associated Press - Saturday, April 14, 2018


First the general manager, now the coach.

In another move aimed at getting the Charlotte Hornets on track, majority owner Michael Jordan fired coach Steve Clifford on Friday after the team went 36-46 and failed to reach the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons.

Clifford had a year left on his contract. The move to dismiss him came after his face-to-face meeting Friday with new general manager Mitch Kupchak.

“I want to thank coach Clifford for his contributions to the Hornets,” Kupchak said in a statement. “I know he has worked incredibly hard on behalf of the organization and we wish him the best moving forward. The search for a new coach will begin immediately.”

Jordan hired Kupchak on Sunday to replace Rich Cho, who was fired earlier in the season after the Hornets failed to climb out of an early slump.

The Hornets were 196-214 in five seasons under Clifford. They reached the playoffs twice, but failed to make it out of the first round in 2014 and 2016.

Clifford is the third NBA coach to be dismissed since the end of the regular season, following Jeff Hornacek of New York and Frank Vogel of Orlando.


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Outfielder Tarik El-Abour, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3 and did not speak until he was 6, signed a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals on Autism Awareness Day.

El-Abour was assigned to the Royals’ extended spring training in Surprise, Arizona, and will open with one of Kansas City’s three rookie league clubs, which all start their seasons in June. The 25-year-old El-Abour has played in the independent Empire League, where he was named rookie of the year in 2016.

Reggie Sanders, a former Royals player who is an adviser to baseball operations, was instrumental in getting El-Abour signed. Sanders said his 40-year-old brother is autistic.

El-Abour threw out the first pitch on Autism Awareness Day last year at Kauffman Stadium. Sanders received permission from manager Ned Yost for El-Abour to take batting practice and shag fly balls during pregame drills.

“He did so well, fit in so well, just being one of the guys,” Sanders said. “I said, ‘Lord, what do you want me to do with this?’ Six months went by and I woke up one day and said, ‘Oh my God, I think this would work in terms of the Kansas City Royals and Tarik.’”

Sanders described El-Abour as a speedy left fielder.

“He’s just a raw player,” Sanders said. “The coaches are all in in terms of being patient with him, making sure they are very clear … in terms of their language.”

After graduating from San Marino High School in California, El-Abour played at Pasadena City College. He earned a starting spot with Pacifica College, which merged with Bristol University in Anaheim. He played his senior season while earning a degree in business administration.

“We see this as an outstanding opportunity for Tarik and our organization,” Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said.


FRISCO, Texas (AP) - Ken Hitchcock wasn’t sure how long he would coach the Dallas Stars the second time around after 15 years away.

Turned out to be one season.

The coach who led Dallas to its only Stanley Cup championship retired Friday, ending a 22-year career as the third-winningest coach in NHL history. Hitchcock’s 823 wins are behind only Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Joel Quenneville (884).

The 66-year-old Hitchcock will become a consultant for the Stars.

“I have contemplated this since our last game and I came to the conclusion that now is the right time to step away and let the younger generation of coaches take over,” said Hitchcock, who last year signed a multiyear contract that included the stipulation of becoming a consultant when he was finished coaching.

Hitchcock returned to Dallas after 14 seasons elsewhere, including stops in Philadelphia, Columbus and St. Louis. General manager Jim Nill hoped Hitchcock could get the Stars back to the playoffs, but a late-season slump kept them out for the second straight year and the eighth time in 10 seasons.

“We were honored to have Ken as our head coach and it was fitting that he finished his coaching here,” Stars owner Tom Gaglardi said. “He is a certain Hockey Hall of Fame coach and he left a lasting legacy wherever he went.”

The Stars went to the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive seasons, beating Buffalo for the title in 1999 before losing to New Jersey in six games. Those are the only times Hitchcock or the Stars have made it to the final.


RENTON, Wash. (AP) - The Seattle Seahawks are hoping Sebastian Janikowski can solve their kicking issues.

The team signed Janikowski on Friday amid a number of moves.

Seattle also signed quarterback Stephen Morris to have another arm on the roster behind Russell Wilson. Running back J.D. McKissic and defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson signed their exclusive rights free-agent contracts for the 2018 season.

Janikowski spent 17 seasons with the Oakland Raiders but missed the 2017 season due to a back injury. Janikowski, 40, has made 80.4 percent of his kicks during his career and holds the NFL record with 55 field goals of 50 yards or longer.

Janikowski will join former Jacksonville kicker Jason Myers in the competition to replace Blair Walsh, who was inconsistent in his one season as the Seahawks kicker last year.

Morris spent time with three teams during the regular season and was with Washington earlier this offseason before being released this month. Seattle had no other quarterbacks on the roster since Trevone Boykin was released late last month.

McKissic developed into Seattle’s third-down running back for part of last season. He appeared in 13 games and had three touchdowns.

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