Forsberg: These rising-star assistants are worth Celtics' attention


The next great NBA coach is probably already in the league but might not be a household name just yet.

That's why newly minted Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens will bring in a robust collection of current NBA assistants as part of interviews for his former gig.

Having already interviewed internal candidates like Jay Larranaga and Jerome Allen, the Celtics will now look across the league. Some will be familiar names like Chauncey Billups, while others like Brooklyn’s Ime Udoka or Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham have long been on the path to head coaching gigs. ESPN reported Wednesday that the Celtics' lengthy interview list will also include Bucks assistant Charles Lee and Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosley.

Forsberg's coaching candidate profiles: Hammon, Lawson | Cassell, Billups

Ham played eight seasons in the NBA for six different teams (with a stop in Spain along the way, too). He was part of Detroit’s 2004 title team before diving into coaching later that decade. Stops with the Lakers, Hawks, and Bucks followed. Ham was a finalist for the vacant Pacers job this past offseason. He’s renowned for his ability to foster relationships with players and shape young talent.

If the name sounds familiar, you probably remember he once did THIS during the NCAA tournament and had the nickname “Ham Slamwich” during his playing days.

But it’s the way others rave about Ham that really make you intrigued by the notion of him leading a team. Here’s what Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer told Texas-based A-J Media about Ham back in 2019:

"It’s hard to put into words everything that Darvin brings, but he’s incredibly important to me, to our players. We want to be tough and there’s nobody tougher than Darvin. He just brings a toughness, a realness, and honesty. The players respect him, his player development with bigs and really everybody. He’s just got a great feel for the sport. He’s special."

Udoka, who played seven NBA seasons, started coaching in 2012 with the Spurs, who won a title in his first season on the bench. After seven years under coach Gregg Popovich, he joined the Sixers for the 2019-20 campaign as Brett Brown’s top assistant. He’s currently part of Steve Nash’s All-Star coaching squad this season.

Trying to whittle down a list of intriguing assistants to interview could be Stevens’ most daunting task. The league is flush with head-coaching potential. David Vanterpool is looking for a new home after Minnesota elected to hire Chris Finch midway through last season. At 36, Lee is the same age as when Stevens got hired in Boston.

Hiring an assistant can be a bit of a dice roll. Just ask the Indiana Pacers, who just dismissed Nate Bjorkgren after one tumultuous season on the bench. Everyone is hunting for the next Nick Nurse or Quin Snyder, and it feels like it’s forever enticing to simply rip a leaf off the coaching tree of Gregg Popovich.

There are a lot of assistants who have put in a lot of long hours to position themselves for a chance to run their own show. The challenge is picking the one that best fits the Celtics’ long-term vision and can best lead this core forward.

Editor's Note: Chris Forsberg will examine different Celtics head coach candidates every day this week. Next up: the wild cards.

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