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Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Sources: Wolves interest Don Nelson

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff, for the moment, is the only known contender for the Minnesota Timberwolves' coaching vacancy.

But a potential Wolves candidate with even more experience unexpectedly surfaced Tuesday when NBA coaching sources said that Don Nelson -- the winningest coach in league history -- is open to a return to the bench and intrigued by the talent on Minnesota's roster.

Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said at a Tuesday press conference to formally announce Kurt Rambis' dismissal that he wants an up-tempo coach to take over, particularly with Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio -- drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2009 -- scheduled to finally join the team when the lockout ends. Nelson is certainly well-acquainted with up-tempo basketball.

Yet whether Wolves owner Glen Taylor is ready to spend on a coach with Nelson's resume, especially after firing Rambis with two years left on his contract, remains to be seen.

It's likewise true that Nelson is not the only elite veteran coach for the Wolves to pursue if they wish: Jerry Sloan, Rick Adelman and Larry Brown are also available. There would also undoubtedly be questions about whether Nelson, who turned 71 in May, is the best fit with one of the league's youngest rosters.

But sources told ESPN.com in the aftermath of Rambis' dismissal that Nelson is undaunted by the widespread criticism Minnesota is receiving around the league for dragging out Rambis' dismissal for three months. Sources said Nelson is also known to be a long-time admirer of both Rubio and Wolves forward Kevin Love, with Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver ranking as another Nelson favorite dating to their time together in Golden State.

The next coach hired by Minnesota will be the sixth since Flip Saunders' dismissal during the 2004-05 season. Kevin McHale, Dwane Casey and Randy Wittman all had turns before Rambis, whose 164 games in charge are tied with Bill Musselman for the second-most in franchise history, behind Saunders' 737.

Nelson did not work last season after new Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob decided to make a coaching change just days before the start of training camp. But Nelson managed to pass Lenny Wilkens for first place on the NBA's all-time wins list late in the 2009-10 season and has an overall record of 1,335-1,063 (.557) in coaching stops in Milwaukee, New York, Dallas and two stints with Golden State.

The Oregonian newspaper reported Monday that the Blazers have granted Minnesota permission to interview Bickerstaff, but the previously reported possibility of the Wolves hiring Bickerstaff as head coach to groom his son for the position no longer appears to be an option, with J.B. Bickerstaff poised to join another potential successor to Rambis -- Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Kelvin Sampson -- in Houston on new Rockets coach McHale's bench.

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.