Shortly after hiring former Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak to run their front office, the Charlotte Hornets dismissed head coach Steve Clifford after his five seasons with the team.
Charlotte finished the 2017-18 campaign with a 34-46 record and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Clifford twice guided them to the playoffs — in 2013 and 2016 — and finished 196-214 in his five seasons as head coach.
Clifford had ties to Kupchak and the Lakers as he previously served as an assistant coach, and the Hornets may find his successor in someone who has a previous connection to Kupchak, or has been mentioned with Los Angeles in recent months.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, current San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina will interview with the Hornets in part because of his work with the Lakers while Kupchak was GM:
Messina made a strong impression on Kupchak with the Los Angeles Lakers, where Kupchak was GM and Messina was a part of Mike Brown’s coaching staff that also included Quin Snyder. Messina, 58, has been part of Popovich’s Spurs staff since 2014.
Also believed to be on the Hornets’ radar is David Fizdale, who doesn’t have the same familiarity with Kupchak, but has built up a strong resume nonetheless:
Fizdale has become one of the market’s most coveted coaching candidates. He was 43-39 in the 2016-7 season, including a six-game playoff loss to the Spurs. He was fired in Memphis after a 7-12 start to this season.
Fizdale was more recently tied to the Lakers, as there was speculation the team would target him during the offseason in order to help lure LeBron James, although such reports seem unlikely in the wake of how much progress L.A. made under Luke Walton this season.
Which candidate the Hornets hire is unlikely to affect the Lakers much because they currently have a head coach they seem to be more than satisfied with. But how these dominoes fall around the league is always worth keeping an eye on.
Kupchak also can’t afford to get his first big hire wrong, and it will be interesting to see if he decides to go with a candidate he’s a bit more familiar with in Messina after how much the Lakers always valued ties to their own organization, or if he opts for more of a proven but less familiar commodity in Fizdale.