- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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A few dribbles of chatter from the NBA's coaching and GM grapevine:
A new coach isn't the only significant hire Phil Jackson is expected to make as he starts to revamp the team and organization that operates out of the renovated Madison Square Garden.
The consistent word in league circles is that Jackson is looking to make at least one significant addition to the front office to assist him and Steve Mills, who has been retained as Knicks GM (for now) to work under the new president of New York.
Said one source close to the situation: "Phil knows he needs a good, young executive in there who can make deals and really knows the [salary cap]."
Far less obvious at this juncture, though, is the list of candidates Jackson plans to choose from.
The most qualified executive from Jackson's very small circle of NBA pals is former Phoenix Suns personnel boss Steve Kerr, but Kerr has made it clear he wants to coach in the NBA, as opposed to GM-ing, if he decides to leave television. That's one of the reasons NBA coaching sources have maintained for weeks that the Knicks coaching job is essentially Kerr's to accept or reject, should Jackson oust Mike Woodson at season's end, as widely expected.
And it's a struggle, beyond Kerr, to manufacture names that make sense unless Jackson makes it known that he's prepared to go outside of that small circle and open up a broader search.
Jackson maintained a healthy distance from the various personnel men he worked with during his two stints with the Lakers, which is why there are no L.A. execs of recent vintage who strike you as an instant nominee. Ex-Lakers official and current Suns scout Ronnie Lester has been mentioned, but Lester and Jackson don't have anything resembling the sort of bond that the Zen Master has with the likes of Kurt Rambis, Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper and the still-active Derek Fisher. The reality, though, is that those four Phil disciples don't possess the sort of experience and/or proven front-office versatility that Jackson could surely use to lean on.
One of the latest theories in circulation, among rivals coaches and executives, suggests that Jackson will lean on Kerr for guidance if Kerr indeed winds up replacing Woodson. And that would presumably thrust a longtime Kerr associate, such as Cleveland Cavaliers acting general manager David Griffin, into the mix.
Yet, it's also widely believed that Jackson wants to put off any searching, even for a new right-hand man in the executive suite, until after this season plays out. The Knicks, after all, badly want to snag the East's No. 8 seed if they can manage it. And Jackson would presumably prefer not to create anything resembling a distraction that the Knicks could point to as an excuse if they start backsliding again.
The Houston Rockets, according to sources familiar with the team's thinking, recently began looking at the point guard market -- domestically and abroad -- just in case they need a late-season replacement for defensive stalwart Patrick Beverley.
To the Rockets' relief, though, Beverley is vowing to play again this season after finding out that the torn meniscus in his right knee suffered late last month will not require surgery. So Houston, at the moment, is leaning against bringing in anyone new.
But sources said that Rockets officials indeed reached out to Bayern Munich point guard Malcolm Delaney to see if prying him away from the German champions at this late-in-the-season date was feasible. Delaney has yet to play in the NBA since leaving Virginia Tech in 2011 but has turned heads with a strong season in the Euroleague.
The Rockets, of course, also continue to hold out hope that they'll someday be able to bring Real Madrid guard Sergio Llull over, having acquired the coveted Spaniard's NBA rights on draft day in 2009 once Llull was selected by the Denver Nuggets with the 34th overall pick that year.
Llull is a big and internationally seasoned guard whom the Rockets, I'm told, believe is a definite NBA rotation player. But negotiating an in-season buyout for Llull with Real Madrid, even had Beverley been lost for the season, was never a possibility. Impossibility is more like it.
Plus, Llull himself has consistently been publicly lukewarm on the idea of leaving the Spanish ACB for the NBA. Real Madrid signed Llull, 26, to a monster contract extension in 2012 that runs through 2017-18.
One of the more interesting (but untold) stories of the Washington Wizards' return to the playoffs after a five-season absence is the presence of assistant coach Ryan Saunders on Randy Wittman's bench.
Saunders made his way to Washington as an assistant for his father, Flip, and became a coaching free agent last summer after a season and a half under Wittman.
But, instead of following Flip to Minnesota, where the elder Saunders became the Timberwolves' new team president and part owner last May, Ryan was retained by the Wizards, who didn't want to surrender the contributions he makes on the scouting and analytics side as well as his presence on the floor as one of Wittman's aides alongside veterans Don Newman, Sam Cassell and Don Zierden.
So the Wiz signed Saunders to a new deal entering this season that kept him next to Wittman, who unexpectedly has Washington in the mix for the fifth seed in the East after a playoff drought stretching to Gilbert Arenas' D.C. heyday in 2007-08.
A few dribbles of chatter from the NBA's coaching and GM grapevine:A new coach isn't the only significant hire Phil Jackson is expected to make as he starts to revamp the team and organization that operates out of the renovated Madison Square Garden.