NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Hornets began contract talks with Monty Williams about their head coaching job on Friday, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Williams, an assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers, emerged as one of the Hornets' top head coaching choices, along with Boston Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau, after the club had interviewed eight candidates during the past month.

A recent offer from the Hornets to Thibodeau has not been rescinded, but New Orleans is turning its focus to Williams while Thibodeau considers a range of options with several teams, the person told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the club hasn't officially commented on the negotiations.

Williams, who played at Notre Dame and then for several NBA teams spanning nine seasons, joined Portland head coach Nate McMillan's staff in 2005. Williams has helped the Blazers mold a playoff team from a roster young players including LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy.

Portland won 50 games this season to earn the sixth playoff seed in the Western Conference. The Blazers then lost to the Phoenix Suns, 4-2, in a best-of-seven opening round playoff series.

The Hornets began their coaching interviews with New Orleans native and former Dallas coach Avery Johnson in early May. New Orleans also spoke with 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.

The Hornets fired Byron Scott nine games into this past season and were coached the rest of the way by general manager Jeff Bower, who went back to the front office full-time after the New Orleans missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.

If Williams agrees to terms with the Hornets, he will over a club that went 37-45. However, the Hornets have two stars in guard Chris Paul and power forward David West, as well as emerging young players in guards Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton. New Orleans also has the 11th overall pick in this month's NBA draft.

Meanwhile, minority owner Gary Chouest's anticipated purchase of the club from founder George Shinn is expected to provide an infusion of spending power as free agency approaches.