Hornets head coach search tracker: Who could be tabbed as Steve Clifford’s successor?

Before rolling off into the coaching sunset and delving into a consultant role with the Charlotte Hornets, Steve Clifford gave his final take on a variety of subjects.

Including co-owners Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin.

“If you sit and talk to them, they’re just highly successful, very great men that have a passion for the NBA,” Clifford said. “And success usually comes with personal qualities. If you spend time with them, you just get the feeling that they’re going to figure this out.”

Slowly, the duo is leaving their imprints on the franchise, the most recent being the hiring of Jeff Peterson as the new vice president of basketball operations. Now aligned with Peterson, the next major task for Schnall and Plotkin is tabbing someone as Clifford’s successor.

When Peterson discussed the search while flanked alongside Clifford at their press conference announcing the transition, he said the search for their next coach would be exhaustive and extensive. And judging by all the reported names that have been tossed out since, including one Duke product, that’s been the case.

He’s sifting through to find the person exuding the qualities he spoke about earlier this month.

“In terms of what I’m looking for, I want guys who are going to be a true partner with not only the front office, but ownership, (the) performance team.,” Peterson said. “Obviously, someone who can hold the players accountable, relate to the players and get the best out of them, communicate with them, teach them effectively. Someone who’s competitive.

“Those are a few traits I’ll be looking for as I approach this next process.”

Two potential candidates are already off the table, with Sacramento associate coach Jordi Fernandez reportedly bound for Brooklyn and Phoenix associate head coach Kevin Young headed to the college ranks. So, the list appears to be shrinking and it would be a surprise if the Hornets don’t have an agreement in place with their prospective hire within the next two weeks.

Word around the NBA and via league sources suggests Boston assistant coach Charles Lee, deemed an early front-runner by The Observer weeks ago, still has a really good chance to be dubbed the Hornets’ successor to Clifford. These things are always fluid, but that’s the current thought process.

Lee is familiar with Peterson and Schnall from their days together in Atlanta. Lee began his career as an assistant coach with the Hawks under Mike Budenholzer and followed Budenholzer to Milwaukee until landing with the Celtics last summer.

If Lee does wind up being the guy, it could pose a similar situation to what the Hornets faced exactly two years ago, when they were waiting for Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson to finish his duties during the Warriors’ championship run. Atkinson would have had a late start incorporating himself into Charlotte’s brain trust in June just days before the NBA Draft if he had not spurned them, and hiring another coach involved in a deep postseason push would give Lee a late start in the team/free agency evaluation process.

Either way, expect Peterson to be methodical. Getting the right person in place is imperative for an organization with the league’s longest playoff drought and had been injury-plagued over the past two seasons, led by star point guard LaMelo Ball failing to log a full season.

Here are some of the reported candidates who have been or will be interviewed. This list will be updated as the search continues.

David Adelman

What you should know: As the lead assistant under Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone since 2017, he brings championship experience to the table. The son of Hall of Fame coach Rick Adelman, he was a candidate for the Toronto Raptors’ head coaching job last summer and also had stints in Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota.

Charles Lee

What you should know: When the Hornets cast their net two years ago, they interviewed him before going with Atkinson and prior to hiring Clifford. At 39 years old, he could share a similar vision of Peterson, Charlotte’s 35-year-old leader of the basketball operations department.

Lindsay Harding

What you should know: The former Duke star became the first woman to win the G League Coach of the Year award, getting recognized for guiding the Stockton Kings. She was the Naismith College Player of the Year in 2007 before being selected No. 1 overall in the 2007 WNBA Draft.

Royal Ivey

What you should know: Before joining the Houston Rockets under head coach Ime Udoka, the 10-year NBA veteran was a Nets assistant for three seasons. He’s said to have played a big role in the development and overall growth of Jalen Green in his third year in the league.

Jordan Ott

What you should know: In his second season as an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers under head coach Darvin Ham, Ott knows Peterson from their days together in Brooklyn. He spent sixth years as an assistant coach for the Nets in 2021-22

Jerry Stackhouse

What you should know: The North Carolina standout and two-time NBA All-Star coached the past five seasons at Vanderbilt, but wasn’t brought back for another year despite signing a lucrative contract extension prior to the Commodores’ 2022-23 campaign.