- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Five dribbles of chatter from the league's front-office and coaching grapevines:
Among the immediate concerns for the Indiana Pacers heading into the Eastern Conference finals against Miami is the state of David West's right calf. One of the longer-term worries, though, is West's forthcoming free agency.
The Pacers' veteran leader openly loves his situation in Indiana, which certainly gives Indy justified cause for optimism when it comes to re-signing the 32-year-old this summer. Yet the whispers are already swirling that Chris Paul's Los Angeles Clippers, in particular, are going to make a hard run at West in the offseason.
Indy will certainly have the ability to pay West more to convince its locker-room sage to stay, given that the Clips would presumably have to structure an offer with the $5.15 million midlevel exception available to nontax teams. But you have to figure that the former Hornet -- who rose to All-Star prominence playing alongside CP3 -- is going to want to hear the details of a proposal pitching a reunion with his old point guard ... as long as Paul himself, of course, decides to stay. If Paul re-signs with the Clips as most league insiders continue to expect, L.A. will be seeking to add the final piece or two to cement itself as a contender with some staying power.
Yet Indy's brass must feel some reassurance when it hears West say things like he said in the wake of the New York series when he described the Pacers as "the most together group I've ever been a part of."
Early estimates suggest that the Toronto Raptors would be willing to offer Masai Ujiri an annual salary in excess of $2 million to leave the Denver Nuggets' front office.
The Nuggets, I'm told, nonetheless remain positive that they'll be able to hang on to Ujiri -- just named the NBA's Executive of the Year for the 2012-13 season -- while knowing they'll obviously have to raise his reported salary of $500,000 to keep him from wanting to leave.
It should be noted that, as of Monday night, Toronto had yet to secure permission from the Nuggets to officially woo Ujiri. But that hasn't stopped the Nigeria native from being billed as the Raptors' top target after it became apparent that Phil Jackson -- despite his longtime friendship with new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke -- was in no rush to embrace Toronto's interest.
Jackson has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he wants the opportunity to run a team from the top, a la Pat Riley, for the first time in his basketball career. After ESPN.com reported that the 11-ringed coaching legend wanted to let the fate of the Sacramento Kings play out before deciding anything about his future, Jackson said in a subsequent visit to "The Tonight Show" that his discussions about running basketball operations for the Chris Hansen-led group trying to purchase and relocate the Kings to Seattle were "serious talk."
Some league observers, however, remain convinced that Jackson's flirtations with teams are largely aimed at convincing Lakers lead basketball decision-maker Jim Buss to cede his organizational power to sister Jeanie Buss ... which would theoretically enable Jeanie to bring Phil, her fiancé, back to Lakerland as L.A.'s next front-office chief.
At least two teams came away from last week's Board of Governors meeting in Dallas convinced that the 22-8 vote in favor of keeping the Kings in Sacramento would have been a lot closer if NBA commissioner David Stern wasn't so determined to lobby owners in the room to keep the franchise right where it is.
Yet a third team consulted told ESPN.com that Sacramento likely would have prevailed anyway, with or without Stern's hard push, since a simple majority of just 16 votes was all that was needed to block the proposed relocation to Seattle.
My follow-up question: Does the league's ultimate decision to keep the Kings in Sactown do anything to erase at least a little of the bitterness that locals still harbor about the way the 2002 Western Conference finals against the Lakers played out?
On the coaching front ...
One reason the Nets' coaching search isn't moving too quickly: Lionel Hollins and Brian Shaw, two of Brooklyn's foremost targets, are still at work in the playoffs.
Sources say the Grizzlies remain determined to sign Hollins to a new deal after the playoffs. Contract discussions were mutually tabled by both sides until the postseason plays out, but that does expose Memphis to a high-dollar offer from Brooklyn in July that gets Hollins' attention.
The Clippers, while still deliberating the future of incumbent coach Vinny Del Negro, are now widely presumed to be in the running for Hollins as well after owner Donald T. Sterling -- who doesn't even attend all of his own team's playoff games -- showed up courtside Sunday in San Antonio to watch the Grizzlies get thumped in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. But skepticism persists, even if the Clips do soon have an opening, about Sterling's appetite to pay what it would take to extricate Hollins from Memphis, where he is revered locally.
Interesting footnote about the Nets' coaching search: Italian legend Ettore Messina, reported by Yahoo! Sports to be a candidate who is tempting to Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry, is not on Brooklyn's list. If the Hawks make Messina the first European head coach in NBA history, he would have to find a way out of Russian superclub CSKA Moscow, which for years received considerable financial support from Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Lakers assistant coach Steve Clifford, who previously interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks' head-coaching job, interviews Tuesday for Charlotte's opening. The Bobcats are also scheduled to interview Utah assistant Jeff Hornacek later this week, with both Clifford and Hornacek likewise in the mix for the Phoenix Suns' job.
Five dribbles of chatter from the league's front-office and coaching grapevines:Among the immediate concerns for the Indiana Pacers heading into the Eastern Conference finals against Miami is the state of David West's right calf.