The Hornets coaching search now includes a surprising name. And the interest is serious.


Mitch Kupchak has witnessed a bit of everything in the NBA for six decades.

Perhaps that’s why it took the Charlotte Hornets general manager about a nanosecond to remember another incident similar to the one he experienced last weekend when Kenny Atkinson dismissed them. . stay in Golden State eight days after agreeing to terms with the Hornets for their head coaching job.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that Steve Kerr was supposed to go to New York with Phil Jackson,” Kupchak said Thursday night, “and it looks like he made a good decision, right? He decided to take the job at Golden State. So maybe Kenny talked to Steve, I don’t know. Maybe he said, ‘Hey, that’s gonna work for you, right?’ I do not know.”

Atkinson’s incredible knockdown has the Hornets scrambling for a solution and they could turn to a familiar face. Steve Clifford is a strong contender for the vacant head coaching job, multiple NBA sources with direct knowledge told the Charlotte Observer.

According to league sources, Clifford met with owner Michael Jordan and Kupchak this week to discuss the position. Jordan also did the same with Mike D’Antoni, who was considered Atkinson’s runner-up.

But Clifford is on par with the organization, going 196-214 in his five seasons in Charlotte. He led the Hornets to a pair of playoff appearances before being released in 2018 when a mostly new front office led by Kupchak was hired.

Clifford was replaced by James Borrego, who was let go in April with two years remaining on his contract after failing to make the playoffs in his four seasons since taking over. Clifford, 60, left the organization on good terms and that could work in his favor. He was Orlando’s head coach from 2018-21 and was with the Brooklyn Nets as a coaching consultant last season.

Atkinson’s pushback has led to recent talks between the Hornets’ brass, led by Jordan.

“Our landlord has been in town since Tuesday,” Kupchak said, referring to Jordan. “So we spoke on the phone obviously when it happened. And we’ve spent a lot of time together since Tuesday and in person, going over candidates who were being interviewed, maybe new candidates, making sure we’re covering our bases.

“We did not rush this process. We never felt the need to rush. We wanted to pick the right coach and we thought we did (at Atkinson). That said, we are going to have a good coach. We are going to have a good coach.

Kupchak did not offer a timeline for a decision. The NBA offseason carousel is already in motion with the draft completion and free agency starts in less than a week.

It would be beneficial for the Hornets to have their new coach on board before he starts at 6 p.m. Thursday. This way, they can give their thoughts on possible moves on the roster, offering suggestions on how staff can fit into their attacking and defensive schemes.

With determinations looming over the future of restricted free agents Miles Bridges and Cody Martin, among others, the current situation for the Hornets is less than ideal. But Kupchak stressed that they had a plan of attack ready to be executed soon.

“We know what we want to do with our free agents,” he said. “That’s not going to change with a coach. That said, free agency begins in six days. We may have a coach in six days. We’ll go maybe 10 days. So I would like to have a coach.

One thing is certain: it will not be Atkinson at the end of their bench.

“Disappointed,” Kupchak said. “Disappointed and I still feel like he would have been a good pick. I’ve known Kenny for a long time. He’s a guy from Long Island, where I’m from. So there’s the Long Island basketball mafia Island who really supported him We are a little different in age but I’ve known him for a while I think he would have been a good choice but if he’s not comfortable I prefer know it now than in a year.