The Charlotte Hornets have received permission to interview San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina for head coach opening, league sources tell ESPN. GM Mitch Kupchak and Messina worked together with Lakers, when Messina was part of Mike Brown’s coaching staff.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 15, 2018
As Woj points out, Kupchak knows Messina from his days working on Mike Brown’s staff. While that was Messina’s only previous NBA coaching experience (and he basically served as a consultant), he has a long and highly successful career coaching in Europe, and boy is it something. Let’s run back just a few of the highlights:
- Four-time winner of the EuroLeague champion (this is essentially the second best professional basketball title you can win)
- Seven-time Italian Cup winner (I have no idea how impressive that is, but winning anything seven times sounds impressive)
- Four-time Italian League champion (this is likely harder than winning the Italian Cup)
- Five-time Russian League champion (the fact that he spent five years living in Russia is an accomplishment in itself)
- Two-time Russian Cup winner (he won the league the same years he won these)
- Two-time EuroLeague COY, three time Italian League COY, and four time Russian League COY (your favorite coach could never)
- He also coached the Italian National team and won silver with them in the 1997 EuroBasket (he probably could’ve beaten Trinidad & Tobago too)
Look, I’ve been a Messina fanboy since learning about him in 2014. The crossover of a European legend like him into the NBA intrigues me, especially given the growing influence the European game on the NBA. Add in his working relationship with Greg Popovich and the Spurs, and, well, Kupchak might as well forget about interviewing anybody else.
But rationally speaking, it’s important I and anyone else who’s sold on him to reel it back for a moment. European success doesn’t necessarily equate to NBA success. We don’t have a large sample size to go off of other than David Blatt, and while Blatt was able to reach the Finals, his locker room approach wasn’t well liked by his players. Dealing with players in the NBA is different than in Europe, and if I recall, Blatt wasn’t able to adjust for that. Messina was pretty authoritative as a coach in Europe as well, and once reportedly cut a few of Real Madrid’s stars when he took over the team.
However, Messina has the advantage of working as an assistant in the league for a few seasons now under arguably the league’s best coach. If he’s paid attention, and my guess is he has, he’ll be better prepared to handle players than Blatt who jumped straight from Europe to North America.
There’s also a matter of style of play. I uncovered an extensive report from Messina on his days with CSKA Moscow in 2008-2009. Here’s how he opened things when discussing his offensive style:
Our coaching staff spends a lot of time trying to figure out how we can utilize the best characteristics of our players on offense. This is a long process and sometimes we can’t find an exact role for each of our players right away. We strongly believe that, beyond the offensive choices, we have to take care of the players’ improvement, putting them into the best conditions to be dangerous on offense: we want to be effective using the players’ skills.
In other words, play to a player’s strengths. So that means no more jump shots for Dwight Howard, right?
Denver Stiffs wrote back in 2015 that Messina’s offenses are low tempo and favor the halfcourt. That probably won’t work that effectively in today’s NBA game unless 3-pointers are prioritized. The important thing for Messina is whether he’s adapted his philosophy to the modern NBA game.
But look, I’m getting ahead of myself. Messina hasn’t even interviewed yet, and I’m already writing about him as if he’s been hired. If that does happen, I’ll pick up where I left off. For now, share your thoughts and try to temper your expectations more successfully than I have.