- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Brooklyn Nets hold Jeff Van Gundy in high regard and consider him a serious candidate behind top target Phil Jackson to fill their head coaching vacancy, if he's interested, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com.
Another league source, however, told ESPNNewYork.com that Van Gundy, an ESPN NBA analyst, needs to learn more about Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and the inner workings of the organization before determining his level of interest. The source said Van Gundy, the former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach, likely would prefer taking over the Nets after the season, not during it.
Yahoo! Sports first reported Van Gundy is more willing to take the Nets job after this season.
"I would never comment on a job that was filled," Van Gundy told the website. "I was an interim coach. I hope P.J. has great success there. He's someone I respect greatly."
The Nets fired coach Avery Johnson on Thursday after the team started the season 14-14. P.J. Carlesimo has replaced Johnson on an interim basis and led the team for the first time Friday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, a game the Nets won, 97-81.
Sources told ESPN.com on Thursday that Nets officials have established Jackson as their top target in the wake of Johnson's dismissal. The 67-year-old Jackson appeared close to returning for a third stint with the Lakers in November before Los Angeles unexpectedly gave the job to Mike D'Antoni.
Prokhorov on Friday sidestepped questions about the team's interest in Phil Jackson.
"P.J. is the head coach and we have an amount of trust with him," Prokhorov said. "Now P.J. is the head coach, and if it become necessary, you know who the usual suspects are."
Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson also has emerged as a candidate for the Nets job, a source told ESPN.com. Sampson coached the Rockets during Kevin McHale's leave from the team earlier this season.
One coaching source advised Thursday that an approach for Southern Methodist University's Larry Brown could not be ruled out, even with Brown in his first season at SMU, because of Brown's close relationship with Nets general manager Billy King. Other veteran coaches available include Nate McMillan, Mike Dunleavy and Flip Saunders, also an ESPN analyst.
"I'm from Brooklyn. Coaching there would be a dream come true," a tweet from Dunleavy read on SirusXM Basketball.
Information from ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard and ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne was used in this report.
4dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann