The Charlotte Hornets have generally been closed-mouthed about their search for a new head coach, with this exception:
Managing partner Curtis Polk mentioned repeatedly, in an interview Tuesday, the importance of finding a coach rich in experience with player development.
Is Jay Larranaga, top assistant to Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, that guy? A source familiar with the search described Larranaga Friday as a “strong” candidate to replace Steve Clifford.
New Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak is overseeing an exhaustive search that has included, among others, three San Antonio Spurs assistants. The job hasn’t been offered yet, and Kupchak is expected to interview Chicago Bulls assistant Jim Boylen, possibly this weekend.
Larranaga, 42, has been with the Celtics throughout Stevens’ six years there. He has drawn praise for his role in the development of emerging stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. He also played a role in preparing reserve point guard Shane Larkin for an expanded role this season, in reaction to injuries to Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart.
The Celtics lead the Philadelphia 76ers two games to none in their second-round NBA playoff series, despite losing stars Irving and Gordon Hayward for the season, due to injury.
Prior to joining Stevens’ staff, Larranaga coached the Erie (Pa.) BayHawks in what is now known as the NBA’s G-League. The BayHawks made the playoffs each of Larrnanaga’s two seasons there, and eight players from his teams received call-ups to NBA rosters.
Larranaga, who played professionally in Europe before entering coaching, is the son of Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga. Jay Larranaga was born in Charlotte, in 1975, when his father was an assistant coach at Davidson.
Kupchak, who ran the Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball operation for 17 years, will ultimately go to Hornets owner Michael Jordan and Polk with his choice to replace Clifford, for final approval. Detailing a year-round program to maximize the improvement of young talent is central to the Hornets’ search.
“Make sure they are following a training program, so that they don’t come into training camp out of shape or picking up any bad habits,” Polk described. “It’s really something that has become a premium: What are players doing in the off-season?
“This is going to become a very important quality to our coaching hires – that they came from an environment where there was a big premium on player development, and where they’re able to articulate to Mitch what sort of program they plan to put in place with us.”
The New York Knicks filled their coaching opening Thursday, hiring former Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, who was also a candidate for the Hornets. The Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic also have openings. The Bucks job appears particularly attractive because of the presence of elite forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Hawks have also been tied to Larranaga.
While the Hornets would ideally hire a coach soon, there is no urgent deadline: The next significant event on the NBA calendar for non-playoff teams is the draft lottery and combine, both to be held in Chicago May 15 through 20.