Mitch Kupchak didn’t take long to begin cleaning house. The veteran NBA executive was hired last week as Charlotte Hornets’ general manager. By the end of the weekend, he’d already fired head coach Steve Clifford, most of the team’s analytics department and a large chunk of the training staff.
It’s clear that Kupchak wants to start with a clean slate, at least off the court. While the 2018-19 roster will likely also look very different, the next move Kupchak will need to make is identifying a new head coach.
The team has already been linked with at least three candidates. Here’s a look at who the team is targeting, as well as who else is out there.
He’s the biggest name on the list of candidates but not because of his coaching accomplishments. The former Tar Heel All -American played 18 years in the NBA and was a two-time All-Star.
Stackhouse has become a hot coaching candidate, however. In addition to the Hornets, the Magic and Knicks have also reached out to him about their coaching vacancies, according to the New York Daily News. He spent a season as an assistant coach on the Toronto Raptors staff and the last two years as head coach of the Raptors’ G-League team. During that time, he’s led the Raptors 905 to the G-League finals both years, winning one league title and the G-League Coach of the Year honors.
The Kinston-born UNC product would obviously have huge pull in Charlotte, and with former Tar Heels Michael Jordan, Kupchak and Buzz Peterson in the front office, he might be considered a favorite. The team still has to outbid the Knicks, however.
The anti-Stackhouse. If the Hornets hire Messina, it will likely be met with a collective “Who?” from the fanbase. The 58-year-old coaching veteran, however, is a strong candidate with a winning pedigree.
Messina has coached on Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio staff since 2014, and Kupchak has already received permission from San Antonio to talk to him, according to ESPN. Messina also worked for a year with the Lakers, as a consultant. So he has ties to Kupchak. He was one of the finalists for the Lakers job in 2016, when Kupchak hired Luke Walton.
Prior to his Lakers’ experience, Messina spent more than 20 years as a coach in Europe, winning the EuroLeague four times and winning coach of the year twice. He’s also won multiple titles in Italy and Russia.
At the moment, Messina hasn’t been mentioned as a candidate in any of the other ongoing coaching searches, so the Hornets may have the inside track. Of course, there’s also the possibility that Messina has his eye on the post-Popovich Spurs job.
Originally reported to be the “leading candidate” by Sirius/XM’s NBA Radio, Fizdale is the only one of the top three candidates with NBA head coaching experience.
That experience could be a red flag for future jobs, however, including the one in Charlotte. Fizdale led the Memphis Grizzlies to the playoffs in 2016-17, his first year on the job, but he was fired 19 games into this season, following a controversial benching of Marc Gasol. The conflict quickly devolved into a “him or me” situation, and the team went with the star player.
Fizdale showed little trouble dealing with elite NBA players during his career as an assistant coach, which included two NBA titles in Miami with LeBron James, who came to his defense after the November firing.
“I need some answers. Feels like my man was a fall guy,” James tweeted after the firing.
Fizdale will also have some high-profile teams in major cities flirting with him. He’s believed to be high on the Knicks’ list, and there were rumors as far back as January that the Lakers might part ways with Walton to bring him in.
Stephen Silas is a familiar name. He’s been an assistant with the team since 2010, and his father Paul coached the team for parts of two seasons. The younger Silas stepped in as interim coach when Clifford took a health-related leave in December, going 9-12 in a little over a month.
That familiarity may be a drawback, however, as Kupchak’s sweeping changes imply he wouldn’t want to move up an assistant and continue in a similar direction.
Former NBA coaches Jason Kidd, Monty Williams, Frank Vogel, David Blatt and Mike Woodson are all available. Thus far, none have surfaced as being high on the Hornets’ list at this point.