Assistant credited for Celtics defense

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Hornets have begun working on a contract for Tom Thibodeau, a person familiar with the process told The Associated Press on Monday.

The Boston Celtics assistant coach was one of eight head coaching candidates interviewed, according to the AP, along with Portland assistant Monty Williams, former Dallas coach Avery Johnson, Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey, former NBA coach Mike Fratello, former New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank, former NBA player Mark Jackson and Utah assistant Tyrone Corbin.

ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported last Friday that New Orleans was high on Thibodeau -- known as the defensive architect behind the Celtics' unexpected run to within a game of a return to the NBA Finals -- as well as Portland's Williams and could make a hire as soon as this week.

In nearly two decades as an assistant coach in the NBA, Thibodeau has developed a strong reputation as a defensive strategist, and was part of the Celtics' staff when they last won an NBA title in 2008.

The Hornets struggled defensively last season, allowing 102.7 points per game, which ranked 20th in the league.

After firing Byron Scott nine games into this season, the Hornets missed the playoffs for the first time in three years. General manager Jeff Bower coached the club from the time Scott was fired until the end of the regular season before going back to the front office full-time and leading the coaching search along with team president Hugh Weber.

Thibodeau began his NBA coaching career as an assistant with Minnesota in 1989. He later worked as an advance scout with the Seattle SuperSonics before going back to coaching as an assistant with San Antonio, Philadelphia, New York, Houston and now Boston.

His stock has continued to rise with the Celtics' performance in this year's playoffs.

Yahoo! first reported Monday night that Thibodeau is the frontrunner for the Hornets' job.

The Celtics granted the Hornets permission to interview Thibodeau before Boston had eliminated Cleveland earlier this month.

Thibodeau could wind up with his choice of jobs. Several other NBA teams are looking for a new coach, including Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, New Jersey and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.