- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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With the NBA Finals about to commence Thursday, six teams that didn't get that far are still looking for new coaches.
Who will be the first to follow Philadelphia’s lead after the Sixers snagged Doug Collins from TNT?
The following team-by-team spin on the coaching carousel updates where those other six clubs with vacancies are in their searches:
No team with an opening is closer to making a hire than the Hornets, who offered their job to Boston Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau last week.
Sources close to the situation insist that the Hornets don’t want to wait until the NBA Finals are over and will not let their search drag on beyond this week. Those same sources have maintained for days that the Hornets plan to offer the job instead to Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Monty Williams if Thibodeau has not accepted the job before Thursday’s Game 1.
Sources contend that the delay stems not only from Boston’s ongoing postseason obligations but from Thibodeau’s desire to see how serious New Jersey and Chicago are about hiring him. It remains unclear when (or even if) the Bulls still plan to interview Thibodeau, but one source said Doc Rivers’ defensive coordinator in Boston did speak with the Nets before the Celtics left Tuesday for Los Angeles.
During Boston’s series with Orlando, Thibodeau emerged as the top choice of Hornets general manager Jeff Bower, who is close with ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, perhaps Thibodeau’s biggest fan in the coaching business. Yet rumblings persist that Hornets star Chris Paul would prefer Williams, who got his coaching start under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio before joining the Blazers.
The Hawks have interviewed former Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson and current Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey twice each, but sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking say that no decision on the job vacated by Mike Woodson is expected before next week.
Although numerous coaching sources have described Johnson and Casey as the two finalists for the position, Atlanta officials have tried to downplay that characterization, pointing to the fact that Johnson’s fellow ESPN analyst Mark Jackson was just interviewed over the weekend. One source close to the situation also insists that one of the holdovers from Woodson’s staff -- veteran assistant coach Larry Drew -- remains under consideration.
Determining who leads the race at this stage, assuming that the Hawks will ultimately choose between Johnson and Casey, isn’t much clearer. Casey has been regarded as the favorite in league coaching circles from the start, given his association with Hawks general manager Rick Sund dating to their time together in Seattle, but Johnson is said to have made a strong impression on Hawks ownership.
Thibodeau and Johnson, who interviewed Saturday with Nets president of basketball operations Rod Thorn, are the only known candidates for the job, after Thorn confirmed Tuesday to the Newark Star-Ledger that ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy has withdrawn from consideration because he wants to stay in television next season.
Thorn has repeatedly indicated that he plans to interview four to six candidates but hasn’t publicly acknowledged interest in any coaches other than the three mentioned above.
The Nets, meanwhile, continue to be regarded as one of the teams that remains content to proceed slowly in its search for the first coach of the Mikhail Prokhorov era, which would leave open the possibility that free agents pursued by New Jersey’s new billionaire owner starting July 1 will have some input on the eventual hire.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Rumblings persist that Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown has not abandoned his interest in returning to Clipperland for a second stint. Sources say that the Clippers have likewise not abandoned hope of re-hiring Brown, despite equally persistent rumblings that Clippers owner Donald Sterling does not want to spend on a top-tier coach like Brown.
Other names in circulation in connection with the Clippers’ opening include holdover assistant coaches Tony Brown and John Lucas and Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, who recruited Blake Griffin in college, coached Eric Gordon collegiately and has worked with Baron Davis in a Team USA setting. Casey would likewise continue to be a prime Clippers candidate if he does not land the Atlanta job.
Sources said that the Clippers have also discussed pursuing two coaches who recently lost Central Division jobs: Mike Brown and Vinny Del Negro.
If you listen to the coaching grapevine, this is the job Thibodeau covets most. TNT analyst Kevin McHale acknowledged this week that he also expects to get an interview with the Bulls, who have already spoken with former New Jersey Nets coach Lawrence Frank and have been linked with assistant coaches such as Oklahoma City’s Maurice Cheeks and the Lakers’ Brian Shaw.
Like the Nets, Clippers and Bulls, Cleveland is proceeding slowly in its coaching search, focusing on background work on prospective candidates with the future direction of the franchise so dependent on what happens in free agency starting July 1 with LeBron James.
Reports last week identified Milwaukee’s Sampson as a rising Cavs candidate, which makes sense given Sampson’s high standing with Spurs management and the close ties between the Cleveland and San Antonio front offices.
But Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, sources say, has not surrendered hope of securing a big-name NBA veteran. With Van Gundy intent on staying in TV, it’s believed that big name is Larry Brown, whom Cleveland chased in 2005 before hiring Mike Brown.
The idea that Kentucky coach John Calipari will wind up in Cleveland with a re-signed James is unlikely to be buried unless James signs elsewhere or until the Cavs extinguish it by hiring someone else.
I’m told that the Cavs have also shown interest in Byron Scott as a potential candidate; Scott has worked for ESPN since his dismissal in New Orleans nine games into the season.
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