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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


The Milwaukee Bucks have multiple interviews lined up this week in their search for a new head coach. Among them, former Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford was interviewing with the team Monday, according to a league source.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday that the rest of the week includes interviews with former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, former New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams, San Antonio Spurs assistants Becky Hammon and James Borrego and former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt.

The Bucks have said that Joe Prunty, who coached the team for the final 37 games of the regular season as well as the playoffs, would also be given an interview. It's possible more names will be added to the list of interviewees over time.

Of the crop of contenders, none has created as much buzz as Hammon, who will become the first female to interview for a head coaching position in the NBA. Hammon also interviewed with the Bucks last summer for their open general manager position, which was filled with the in-house hire of Jon Horst.

Who is Hammon and what are her prospects of landing the Bucks job?

In 2014, Hammon, a 16-year veteran of the WNBA as a player, made history as the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major American pro sports when she joined the Spurs.

Hammon may not be considered one of the favorites for the Bucks' head coaching job - it's uncommon for any assistant to get the first head coaching job they interview for - but she certainly has the credentials to merit an interview. Just getting into the mix of receiving interviews for head coaching positions is usually the first step for NBA assistants on their path to getting to the head chair one day.

As a four-year assistant with the Spurs, Hammon has a lot going in her favor. The disciples of Gregg Popovich, who has won five NBA titles and is widely considered one of the best coaches in league history, have gone on to achieve plenty of success in the NBA.

Popovich acolytes who have earned head coaching gigs include Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni, Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown, Budenholzer and Mike Brown, a former head coach of multiple teams. Prunty also was a former Spurs assistant under Popovich and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr played for Popovich late in his career.

Further evidence of the high regard in which Spurs assistants are held can be seen through the opportunities being extended to their current crop of assistants. Associate head coach Ettore Messina, who coached San Antonio during the playoffs following the death of Popovich's wife, is getting looks for head coaching positions, including interviewing with Milwaukee on Saturday, according to reports. Fellow assistants Borrego and Ime Udoka, along with Williams who serves as the team's vice president of basketball operations, are also getting interviews this off-season.

Hammon, 41, has the shortest tenure as a coach among the Spurs assistants, but she's already done enough to turn heads around the league.

In a lengthy feature in The New Yorker last month, Hammon received votes of confidence from coaches and players alike, including Popovich and Cleveland Cavaliers megastar LeBron James.

"She knows what she knows and she knows what she doesn't, and, what she doesn't know, she gets in the film room, or nails down one of the other coaches," Popovich said. "I think she's a star."

James offered: "I mean, listen, at the end of the day, basketball, it's not about male or female. If you know the game, you know the game."

As accomplished as Hammon is - she had a successful playing career, played for Russia in the Olympics, is an assistant coach for one of the best franchises in the NBA over the past two decades, coached the Spurs' summer-league team to a championship in 2015 and more - mentions of her name in the context of coaching in the NBA still leads to strong, sexist responses. That's becoming less true in the NBA, but the sentiment remains alive in the cesspool of social media.

"My motives shouldn't be to change people's minds," Hammon told The New Yorker. "My job is to be the best that I can be, and if that changes your mind then great, but I can't be consumed with how you feel about me."

Meanwhile, this is the second go-around at the Bucks' job for Clifford. He was a finalist for Milwaukee's head coaching position in 2013 when the team opted to hire Larry Drew. Later that spring, Clifford was hired by the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) to be their head coach after spending 13 seasons in the NBA as an advance scout (one season) and assistant for the next 12 with four different teams.

He immediately helped turn the Bobcats around in 2013-'14, instilling a defense that finished the season ranked fifth in defensive efficiency. Charlotte's defense under Clifford ranked in the top 10 in efficiency in each of his first three seasons, with two of those seasons (2013-'14 and 2015-'16) resulting in playoff berths. Clifford's teams in Charlotte also had the lowest turnover ratio for four straight seasons before finishing second in that stat in 2017-'18.

This past season, Clifford missed 21 games to address his health after suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation. He was able to return following that absence to finish out the season but was fired after the Hornets missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

In five seasons with Charlotte, Clifford had a 196-214 record with two postseason appearances, both of which ended in first-round exits.

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May 8, 2018


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