Nellie might be leading man in Sacto coach search

Updated: May 10, 2006, 11:37 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Don Nelson was at his home in Maui when he learned Tuesday that two friends, Sacramento Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, were suddenly looking for a new coach.

The location is important because it represents one of the obstacles Sacramento would face should it make a full-steam pitch to recruit Nelson as its Rick Adelman replacement.

Nelson was one of three names I heard most in the hours after Adelman was informed his Kings reign was over. The others: Ex-Kings assistant coach Terry Porter and San Antonio Spurs assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo.

Don Nelson
After a year of relaxation, is Nellie really ready to deal with the refs and Ron-Ron?

However ...

If you believe, as I do, that choosing Adelman's replacement rests more with the Maloofs than with team president Geoff Petrie -- and if you believe the Maloofs are looking for a candidate with a more decorated résumé than Adelman's and the best shot at managing Ron Artest -- you can expect to hear more about Nelson in coming days.

Nelson is the only available coach who meets those requirements, and he won't discourage the idea. The 27-year coaching veteran told ESPN.com via phone that, although still very content in X-and-O retirement and not quite ready to discuss the opening publicly, he'd listen to a Kings proposal because he's so fond of the Maloof brothers.

Nelson, though, has enjoyed what he often refers to as "the year of my life" since resigning as coach of the Dallas Mavericks in March 2005. The Kings have the financial wherewithal to offer the $5 million annual salary likely needed to lure Nellie back to the bench, but they also would have to persuade Nelson -- who turns 66 Monday -- to give up the freedoms and luxuries of his new lifestyle.

ESPN.com reported in February that Nelson, according to multiple associates, has dropped hints about a possible return to coaching next season. Sacramento immediately emerged as the most obvious destination for a few reasons.

1. Nelson is sufficiently eccentric in his own right to click with Sacramento's new cornerstone player, and the Kings need a coach who can reach Artest if they're committed to an Artest-centric future.

2. The Maloofs undoubtedly are willing to pay top dollar for a coach and are known to like making splashes, as evidenced by their gamble to trade for Artest in January and their not-so-secret attempts a year ago to hire Phil Jackson before Jackson returned to the Los Angeles Lakers.

3. Nelson already is working for the Maloofs. The madcap brothers own the production company that, with George Clooney as a producer, is putting together a basketball sitcom in which Nelson coaches a fictional expansion team in San Diego.

The Kings, furthermore, are not required to ask Dallas for permission to speak to Nelson. NBA coaching sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that Nelson, presently serving as a Mavs consultant, is a coaching free agent at season's end and thus free to entertain job offers for 2006-07.

Yet it remains to be seen whether Petrie or even the Maloofs would replace Adelman with an offensive-minded coach, amid suspicions that they would rather not. Neither brother could be reached for comment Tuesday, and Petrie -- who resisted the ouster of his longtime pal to the end -- didn't reveal much about the search for Adelman's successor at a Tuesday news conference.

Nelson has the biggest sideline presence of any available coach and, by all accounts, has developed a close bond with the Maloofs. But Artest's arrival gave the Kings a top-shelf defensive presence for the first time in Adelman's run of eight consecutive playoff seasons. Nelson critics will say he's too freewheeling to make the best use of Artest; Nelson backers will say you don't have to be a defense-first coach if Artest is on your team.

If the Kings want to get closer to the San Antonio model, Carlesimo is a natural target. Porter, meanwhile, has Kings ties and experience as a head coach, although I've also been advised by NBA coaching sources that -- after a year off following his ouster in Milwaukee -- Porter is a prime contender for Flip Saunders' staff in Detroit as the replacement for N.C. State-bound Sidney Lowe.

It also remains to be seen whether Nelson can be lured back by anyone, even if he did emerge as the Kings' top target. Despite his official title, Nelson isn't consulted for much by Avery Johnson's Mavs. So he stays busy making real estate transactions in Hawaii and on the mainland.

He recently took a vacation to New Zealand with wife Joy that he called his first-ever trip abroad for non-basketball reasons. He also has opened a sports bar in downtown Dallas where he can be found playing shuffleboard whenever he's in town.

He's enjoying it all, too.

"I'm not planning on coming back, but I don't know the future," Nelson said in a March radio interview with ESPN 103.3 FM in Dallas. "I just don't. I wish I did, but I don't know what's going to happen."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

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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