According to the big voice on high, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Raptors have been speaking with two of the top lieutenants in the San Antonio Spurs organization over the past week: Ettore Messina and Ime Udoka.
Here’s the tweet (and the full story is here):
San Antonio Spurs assistant coaches Ettore Messina and Ime Udoka interviewed with the Toronto Raptors for the franchise's head coaching job on Thursday and Friday, respectively, league sources told ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 26, 2018
At this point it is kind of funny how intense the scrutiny the Spurs’ coaching tree garners every off-season, due largely to their collective proximity to Gregg Popovich. The leading candidates on his team have all gotten interviews, including Becky Hammon, who would be the first female head coach in NBA history if hired by another team. Meanwhile, James Borrego has already been hired by Michael Jordan and the Hornets. (To say nothing of former Spurs’ assistant Mike Budenholzer, who was one of the more sought after coaches this off-season.) There are a lot of eyes coming their way, is my point.
In Messina, who the Raptors reportedly talked with on Thursday, Toronto would be hiring one of the more experienced international coaches around today. And if you’ll recall, Messina has long been on the Raptors’ radar, thanks in large part to the Italian connections of the team’s past (Bryan Colangelo, Maurizio Gheradini, and, uh, Andrea Bargnani).
Messina, now 58 years old, has won four EuroLeague titles, a EuroLeague Coach of the Year award in 2008, and is considered (and has been named, in fact) one of the top 50 greatest contributors to the EuroLeague. Not bad for a guy who has coached pretty much every powerhouse the league has had, from Benetton Treviso, to Real Madrid, to CSKA Moscow. He was also a consultant to the Lakers in 2011-12, and has been on the Spurs staff since 2014. I for one am ready to root for Ettore.
On the flip side of the experience coin is Udoka, who, at just 40 years old, has been an assistant with the Spurs since 2012. Before that, Udoka was signed as an undrafted forward in 2003 by the Lakers, before hopping from the Knicks to the Blazers and then finally settling in with the Spurs from 2007 on. From all accounts, Udoka is one of those good guy backbenchers every good team needs to succeed. He was there when the Spurs won the NBA title in 2014, and was later credited with helping San Antonio keep LaMarcus Aldridge, as the two played together as rookies in Portland.
From all the reports, it looks as though the Raptors’ choices here have narrowed to perhaps one of these two names from the Spurs, or, of course, their own internal options. (For what it’s worth, Woj reports that Nick Nurse is seen as the leading in-house candidate.)
We still wait to see who the Raptors will ultimately go with.