Brown will be No. 1 candidate for several jobs

Originally Published: May 27, 2003
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

If the Nets can't do it in the Finals and give us some June suspense for the first time all century, don't worry.

There's always the coaches.

The forthcoming offseason is going to be a wild one, with a crush of marquee free agents bound for the open market and few dollars to go around, but the chaos didn't want to wait.

Larry Brown's resignation from the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday created the league's fifth coaching opening, except that there are really eight openings if you count the teams with interim coaches (Hawks and Clippers) and those that are expected to have an opening by the end of this week (Washington).

That should explain why Brown readily forfeited the $12 million left on his contract. Brown is famed for his wanderlust, which had to be bubbling after six seasons with the Sixers, and he has several good options to start anew. LeBron James is already lobbying Brown to come to Cleveland, but there are at least three other teams that are bound to pique Larry's interest before the Cavs: Houston, Denver and, believe it or not, those Clips.

Brown's sudden availability also means that no less than five proven coaches are looking for jobs. Jeff Van Gundy, Paul Silas, Mike Dunleavy and Mike Fratello join him in the search for work, all slotting in now behind Brown.

"Don't be surprised," said one Western Conference coach, "if everybody waits to see where Larry ends up first. He changes the whole complexion of this (coaching carousel)."

Here's a team-by-team look at how the vacancies could be filled:

Houston Rockets
Rockets owner Les Alexander arrived in Dallas on Sunday to open talks with two prime candidates: Van Gundy and Dunleavy. Then on Monday, a coach Alexander has always liked -- Brown -- became available. If Alexander makes Brown his No. 1 target, as rival teams expect, Houston will be difficult for Brown to resist. Brown is a huge fan of Yao Ming dating to the 2000 Olympics, and he's very close with Rockets trainer Keith Jones, who might wield more influence than anyone in his position in the league. If those lures aren't sufficient, Brown would also be getting a Steve Francis-Cuttino Mobley backcourt to mold. This is the most attractive job out there and Brown, as the most accomplished coach out there, is a sensible fit. Brown would have preferred the North Carolina job, of course, but this is a handy fallback.

Philadelphia 76ers
Numerous league sources insist that Maurice Cheeks is a lock to leave Portland and return to the Sixers. That would be the best possible answer for Allen Iverson, who respects Cheeks and wouldn't need any time to get acquainted. Question is, why would Portland let Cheeks go -- and they have denied Philly permission to talk to Cheeks. Cheeks has one season left on his Blazers contract and is revered nationally now ever since helping out the young damsel in distress as she struggled through the national anthem before a recent playoff game. If the Blazers are trying to change their image, as owner Paul Allen insisted recently, why would they part with the Blazer with the best image? Whispers persist that Cheeks' job was in jeopardy in Portland until he rescued the anthem singer, but one Blazers source scoffed at that notion, saying: "Are you crazy? The owner loves Mo." If Cheeks isn't permitted to return to the Sixers, Van Gundy is a likely Philly target. By all accounts, Van Gundy prefers to stay in the East -- as close to New York as possible -- and the Sixers have at least two other attractions (a defensive mindset and a superstar) besides geography that would appeal to the TNT analyst. One more thing: If Cheeks did go back to Philly, it won't be long before Van Gundy's name is circulated as a top Portland candidate.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Silas, if the Cavs are smart, is the best choice here. LeBron will need some stern guidance and Silas, while known as a laid-back boss, is firm when he has to be. As Hornets forward Jamal Mashburn said recently, Silas is one of the league's best as "a manager of people." The combustible Cavs need player management as much as they need coaching, with the hometown teen idol poised to pitch a circus tent, scrutiny-wise, over Gund Arena. Plus James, remember, will be moving into a locker room that already houses the challenging Ricky Davis and Darius Miles. Can't fault Cavs owner Gordon Gund for being ambitious and pursuing Van Gundy and Brown, but Silas meets all the criteria Gund established when he started his search. Gund wants a veteran presence like Memphis' Hubie Brown and Silas, who turns 60 in July, is a vet who players seem to love.

L.A. Clippers
The closest thing to a full-fledged heyday in Clipperdom was seen when Brown was their coach in the early 1990s. He took the Clippers to back-to-back playoff appearances, in which the they nearly sprung first-round upsets both times, then bolted Larry-style to touch off an exodus that led to the departures of Danny Manning and Ron Harper. Brown loves L.A. as a destination, as does his wife, but he'd undoubtedly want control over personnel matters (and a hefty salary) to come back to work for Donald T. Sterling. History says Sterling will give Brown neither, which figures to take their search elsewhere barring a surprise from The Donald. Which also means that interim coach Dennis Johnson still has a chance to be retained full-time, unless there's a more proven coach willing to work on Sterling's salary scale. The Clippers, incidentally, wouldn't necessarily be Brown's first sentimental choice. Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe is a known admirer of Brown and, now that Brown is free of his contractual obligations to the Sixers, Denver is sure to join the fray. Since Vandeweghe took over, the Nuggets have long hoped to lure Brown back to his ABA roots, even though rookie coach Jeff Bzdelik had a fine first season.

Atlanta Hawks
Dunleavy is a Fort Worth neighbor of Hawks owner-to-be David McDavid, which is why he continues to be mentioned as the leading candidate here. Silas' name also comes up frequently in Atlanta, but McDavid is not yet in power. So it's still too early to identify a favorite or put odds on interim coach Terry Stotts' hopes of hanging on. What we do know: McDavid, a former Mavericks minority owner, would make a strong move for Don Nelson if Nelson were leaving Dallas. But that's unlikely. All indications point to Nelson coaching the Mavericks for another season or two, after taking the Mavs to the conference finals for the first time since 1988.

New Orleans Hornets
The latest buzz from the Bayou suggests that the Hornets, after narrowing their wish list to three choices, might have to re-open the search. Co-owner Ray Wooldridge wants Mike Fratello, but lead owner George Shinn is resisting. Hornets players, meanwhile, are apparently still steamed about Silas' firing and are said to be unenthused by the other options: Bulls-ex Tim Floyd and Hornets assistant coach Brian Hill. The talent is there to attract a quality coach, but the ownership threatens to offset the talent lure.

Toronto Raptors
The Raptors still plan to replace Lenny Wilkens with an assistant coach from another team, thereby reducing the financial impact of paying Wilkens next season and the new guy. Detroit assistant Kevin O'Neill, according to league sources, remains the favorite, but the Raptors have also interviewed Philadelphia's Mike Woodson (among others) and are likewise talking to Seattle's Dwane Casey.

Washington Wizards
Doug Collins says he wants to stay, but no one expects him to last much longer in D.C. Yet that would mean the Wizards need a new coach and a new GM, and there doesn't figure to be a long line of folks applying after the messy Abe Pollin-Michael Jordan divorce. Nets director of scouting Ed Stefanski and assistant coach Eddie Jordan have been mentioned as a package deal, but Jordan -- as one of the league's most highly regarded assistants -- could probably hold out for a better situation.

The way this offseason has started, chances are the next opening we see won't even be the last.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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