- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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You undoubtedly clicked here for names in the wake of Mo Cheeks' firing in Portland, and we have one for you.
Not Flip Saunders.
Not Phil Jackson.
Try John Nash.
Saunders and Jackson figure to be high on the list of coaches Portland pursues this offseason to replace the deposed Cheeks, but our focus shifts now to the Blazers' general manager. That's because you hear it over and over these days: Nash doesn't have any more job security than Cheeks had as a lame duck.
Word was already spreading Wednesday that Cheeks' dismissal -- which was coming at season's end regardless -- is merely the first step in a serious Blazers housecleaning. For all its stated attempts to make character as important as winning, Portland has yet again been wracked by turmoil all season, be it in-house carping about all the touches Zach Randolph got in Cheeks' offense or the recent screaming match between Cheeks and Darius Miles. Even though that pattern was established long before Nash arrived, the continuation of that pattern has put Nash on the hot seat from which Cheeks was ejected.
For the coach, it was fairly clear that the end was near when Cheeks had to fight management for a two-game suspension of Miles. Cheeks expressed surprise that he wasn't allowed to finish the season, but you'll recall that he nearly resigned over L'Affaire Darius. So it shouldn't have been a total stunner.
The only real surprise to us from Wednesday's news conference came when Nash suggested that letting Cheeks go now, with 27 games to go, was a decision made "in fairness" to the former Sixers great. To give Cheeks more time to look for another job, in other words.
Huh? Fairness to Cheeks would have been letting him talk to the Sixers last summer when Philly wanted to give him the job. I'm fairly sure the Blazers knew then that this would be Cheeks' last season with the Blazers.
Cheeks had certainly suffered enough. After all those hard years with Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells ... with Randolph and Ruben Patterson ... with Miles and the saga of Qyntel Woods hosting dog fights at his home ... Cheeks served the Blazers longer (and without complaint) than his bosses had a right to expect.
As as a result, I struggle to see Portland landing Jackson or even Saunders when it tries to hire a full-time coach in the summer. They will have better offers from franchises in better shape, to be sure.
Flip will be the best coach on the open market this summer behind Jackson and, as such, could well be approached by, yes, Detroit. Suppose the Pistons' job opens, as virtually everyone in Motown expects. If Larry Brown leaves the champs at season's end, Flip would be a very appealing replacement for Joe Dumars. And we're guessing he'd rather coach the Pistons than the Blazers.
The Zenmeister? New York and the L.A. Lakers are cited daily as the most likely destinations for Jackson, but don't be stunned if he winds up in Minnesota as Saunders' successor. Portland's Allen is a Jackson fan, but it's difficult to imagine Jackson taking over the Blazers in their current state, no matter how rich the dollars are. Coaching Kevin Garnett, by contrast, strikes us as far more appealing than trying to mend fences with Kobe Bryant or molding a playoff team out of Isiah Thomas' overpaid and undersized collection.
It's believed that Allen wants at least one of the two marquee positions -- coach or GM -- to be held by a Blazers alumnus. Entering a crucial offseason, with three marquee contracts expiring (Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Damon Stoudamire and Nick Van Exel) and serious doubts about the abilities of Randolph and Miles to be franchise guys, the belief here is that someone has to fix the roster before any coach can make a difference.
The Blazers' housecleaning may not stop at removing Mo Cheeks as coach. The focus will inevitably shift to GM John Nash.