In the wake of his wife’s death Wednesday, Gregg Popovich will not coach the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of their Western Conference playoff series Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors. The team has announced that assistant Ettore Messina will coach the team.
After a long career as a head coach in Europe, where he won four EuroLeague championships, the Italian-born Messina was a consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011-12 before joining Popovich’s staff in 2014. He served as the team’s fill-in head coach for two regular season games in March 2016 while Popovich was dealing with a family medical emergency, losing the first game to the Indiana Pacers but beating the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second.
Messina, 58, has long been seen as a future NBA head coach — he’d be the first European to become one — and his name has popped up recently as a candidate for the numerous coaching vacancies in the NBA. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Spurs have given the Charlotte Hornets permission to interview him for their opening; Messina worked with new Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak when he was with the Lakers.
“He’s one of the best coaches in the world,” Popovich said in 2015. “He’s very successful, a great technician, a great game coach. To be able to befriend him over the years and now work with him is a joy for me and really good for our organization.”
Said shooting guard Danny Green, comparing Messina’s temperament to that of the more prickly Popovich, “He’s the voice of reason.”
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