Thursday, August 4, 2011
Updated: August 5, 4:20 PM ET
Bruce Pearl mulls Legends' offer
By Jeff Caplan
DALLAS -- Bruce Pearl smiled and answered questions at a news conference that certainly had the feel of a franchise, the Texas Legends, introducing a new coach Thursday afternoon at the American Airlines Center.
Only it wasn't.
Pearl has not accepted the Legends' over-the-top offer. But if he wants to become the second-year franchise's next coach and the highest-paid coach in D-League history -- and likely in the history of all minor league sports -- a package valued at more than $500,000 is ready for him to sign.
"He is our 'A' man," said Donnie Nelson, Legends co-owner and Dallas Mavericks president of basketball operations. "We are aggressively hoping to make something happen. This package will be the most aggressive package in D-League history; and you guys can put the tough questions to him so he'll sign on the dotted line right now."
It is a potential symbiotic relationship. The Legends get to make a big splash that will draw national headlines for Nelson's franchise and the D-League at a time when the NBA is engaged in an ongoing lockout that could wipe out games next season. And a sullied college coach is granted an opportunity to continue coaching while opening avenues onto an NBA bench or a later return to college.
Thursday's news conference before Pearl has made up his mind was something akin to putting the cart before the horse, and even Pearl acknowledged that he wasn't sure why the media was invited prior to a deal being struck.
"You'd have to ask Donnie on that one," Pearl said. "You know what I think it is, Donnie's put together the most aggressive package that has ever been placed before a D-League coach. ... But, what does this do? It brings visibility and credibility to Frisco (the north Dallas suburb that is home to the club), to the Legends. I was on PTI yesterday and we were talking about the possibility, so we were talking about the D-League at a time when football's going on right now, the [NBA] lockout's going on and there's a lot of other places you could be right now, but you're here."
Indeed, Nelson, who made Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman the first woman to coach an NBA-affiliated team as the Legends' inaugural coach, admittedly is pulling out all the stops.
For Pearl, fired from Tennessee for NCAA violations after six successful seasons, the move to the D-League is a logical step in his quest to break into the NBA as an assistant coach. Pearl is still awaiting NCAA punishment, which could include a ban of at least one year from coaching in college.
Pearl said he had a "great visit" and the Legends were a "tremendous organization" in a text message to ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz, adding that he's "taking a serious look" at accepting the job.
Pearl said television opportunities are also possible. Nelson said to make his offer competitive, he had to sweeten the package to more than $500,000 for next season. Some of the money will be earned through media opportunities, such as radio spots during broadcasts.
D-League coaches' salaries average about $80,000, with few exceeding $100,000.
"For me, my life has been basketball. I mean basketball has been very, very good to me," Pearl said. "I worked my whole life to get to a place like Tennessee, but I think coaching is in my blood, it's what I want to do. Now, the opportunity to coach in the NBA and become part of that fraternity is appealing to me. I'm not going to look back or look forward. If this is the direction that we're going to go in, we'll do a great job with it, but we won't be closing the doors to the other things as it relates to the game of basketball."
Jeff Caplan is a reporter and columnist for ESPNDallas.com. Information from ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz was used in this report.