The Minnesota Timberwolves have begun drawing up a list of coaching candidates and Don Nelson is on it, according to NBA coaching sources.
The Wolves plan to hold talks with Nelson to explore the feasibility of hiring the 71-year-old to replace Kurt Rambis, sources said. On Tuesday, sources said Nelson, who spent last year out of the game, is open to a return to coaching and intrigued by Minnesota's young roster.
Fellow coaching veteran Bernie Bickerstaff, who worked as an assistant in Portland last season, is the only candidate that the Wolves have publicly acknowledged. But the Wolves' interest in Bickerstaff was largely tied to the prospect of Minnesota keeping hold of his son, J.B. Bickerstaff, to groom him for a possible promotion to coach, sources said.
J.B. Bickerstaff since has committed to join Kevin McHale's new staff in Houston, along with another reported Wolves target, Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Kelvin Sampson.
It remains to be seen how much the Wolves are willing to spend on a replacement after Rambis was fired with two years left on his contract. If money is not an obstacle -- as Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn insisted earlier this week -- Minnesota also is expected to gauge the interest of former Rockets coach Rick Adelman.
Neither man has won a championship, but Nelson is the NBA's all-time winningest coach, and Adelman is eighth in career wins.
Although it's widely assumed in coaching circles that Adelman, at 65, wants to a coach a veteran team if he takes one more job, he does have a link with Wolves star Kevin Love. Adelman's son and Love played on the same high school team in Oregon, and according to The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, Adelman saw nearly every game Love played in his senior season while between NBA jobs.
After Golden State cratered to a 26-56 record in the final season of his second stint with the Warriors in 2009-10, Nelson undoubtedly would face questions about his age and how he'd handle a young team if he becomes a serious candidate.
But Nelson's great success in Dallas with Steve Nash and star import Dirk Nowitzki is bound to appeal to Wolves owner Glen Taylor and Kahn, given the pending arrival of Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio.
Derrick Williams, selected No. 2 overall by the Wolves in last month's draft, is another multi-position player -- the sort that has thrived under Nelson in the past.
Kahn, though, insisted Tuesday that "you should assume that this will be a pretty wide search." He added that the Wolves had already received inquiries from "seven or eight" interested coaches.
Possibile candidates include Hall of Famer Larry Brown and TNT analyst Mike Fratello, both of whom have previously worked with Kahn. Brown has known Kahn since he was a UCLA student in the 1970s and worked with him when both were employed by the Indiana Pacers. Fratello and Kahn worked together at NBC in the 1990s.
The next coach hired by Minnesota will be the sixth since Flip Saunders' dismissal during the 2004-05 season. McHale, Dwane Casey and Randy Wittman all had turns before Rambis, whose mere 164 games in charge are tied with Bill Musselman for the second-most in franchise history, behind Saunders' 737.
Nelson is the winningest coach in NBA history but found himself without a job in September 2010, when new Warriors owner Joe Lacob decided to make a coaching change just days before the start of training camp.
Nelson, who passed Lenny Wilkens for first place on the NBA's all-time wins list late in the 2009-10 season, has an overall record of 1,335-1,063 (.557) in coaching stops in Milwaukee, Golden State, New York and Dallas.
In the aftermath of Rambis' firing, sources told ESPN.com 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 Love. And current Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver is another Nelson favorite, dating to their time together at Golden State.
Nelson, however, had a strained relationship with Wolves forward Anthony Randolph in Golden State -- another concern he would have to allay.
"[Nelson is] a great coach and he def[initely] would be able to use all of the firepower we have," Tolliver told the Star Tribune via text. "He def[initely] has my endorsement!"
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.