CHICAGO – Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry is giving significant consideration to hiring the first European-born head coach in NBA history, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Ettore Messina, the Italian-born coach of CSKA Moscow, is among the top candidates to replace coach Larry Drew. Ferry and Messina have had contact about the possibility, and Messina is intrigued with the chance to be a global trail blazer in the NBA, sources told Y! Sports.
Ferry recently scouted CSKA Moscow in London at the Euroleague Final Four.
Atlanta's top target, Stan Van Gundy, is a long shot to accept the job, league sources said.
Messina, 53, is a four-time Euroleague championship coach and two-time Euroleague coach of the year. Across two decades of head coaching jobs in Italy and Russia, Messina has won five Russian League championships and four Italian League titles.
Messina spent the 2011-'12 season as a part of Mike Brown's coaching staff with the Los Angeles Lakers. With uncertainty over Brown's future, Messina left the NBA to take a $1 million-plus a year job with CSKA Moscow. Messina brought Lakers assistant Quin Snyder to CSKA with him as an assistant coach.
Ferry is considered one of the few NBA executives with the fearlessness to make the historic move. To introduce a European coach into the leadership of an NBA locker room needs a strong, sure executive, and Ferry possesses the independence of mind to make the move. Hired with a six-year, $12 million-plus contract a year ago, Ferry has the freedom to reshape the Hawks franchise.
Ferry has a strong respect for the European game, and as Cleveland's GM, sent his coach Mike Brown overseas to spend time studying Messina's offense. Ferry also sent Drew to Israeli a year ago to observe Maccabi Tel Aviv's David Blatt.
Messina is a superior coaching mind with a long résumé of success at the highest levels of European basketball. Messina speaks excellent English and has long been considered – along with Blatt – one of the most likely Euroleague candidates to be hired as a head coach in the NBA.
Ferry interviewed ex-Blazers coach Nate McMillan on Wednesday for the Hawks' coaching job. Drew is still under contract with the team until June 30, and hasn't been completely ruled out to return as coach. Nevertheless, Drew has almost assuredly coached his final game for Atlanta.
Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti hired Serbian Darko Rajakovic to coach the Thunder's NBA Development League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, for the 2012-'13 season. Rajakovic was the first non-North American coach in D-League history.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who was born and raised in West Virginia, jumped into the NBA after a successful eight-year stint in the Italian League.
NBA video from Yahoo! Sports
Related NBA coverage from Yahoo! Sports:
• Phil Jackson compares Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in new book
• NBA pre-draft camp's players to watch, including five sleepers
• Kareem Abdul-Jabbar helped Brittney Griner with her sky hook