Kings' new focus on defense might exclude 'Nellie'

Updated: May 10, 2006, 7:53 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Sacramento Kings co-owner Joe Maloof has not ruled out Don Nelson as a candidate to replace the deposed Rick Adelman, but Maloof stopped well short of describing Nelson as the favorite to take over as Kings.

In a phone interview Wednesday with ESPN.com, Maloof confirmed that Nelson's reputation for free-wheeling offense -- as opposed to the defensive mindset Joe and brother Gavin Maloof crave -- gives the Kings some hesitation.

"We love Nellie," Maloof said. "But we do feel like defense has to be the priority. We've seen it with the Kings and we've seen it with our WNBA team -- defense wins championships."

Nelson already works for the Maloofs as one of the stars in a television project that could wind up on HBO. George Clooney is producing a show for the Maloofs' entertainment arm in which Nelson serves as the coach of a fictional expansion team, along with former NBA stars Vlade Divac, Norm Nixon and Marques Johnson.

The friendship they now share from the TV connection has linked Nelson to the Sacramento job for months, with Adelman's departure anticipated in NBA coaching circles all season after the Maloofs' brief flirtation last summer with Phil Jackson and with Adelman coaching on the final year of his contract. But there are basketball reasons to link Nelson with the opening as well.

Nelson is one of the few available coaches with a résumé that compares favorably to Adelman's, after Sacramento reached the postseason in each of his eight seasons. Nelson's sideline presence and considerable experience also hold appeal, with the Kings needing a successor who can reach Ron Artest. Finding someone to click with the enigmatic swingman is a primary consideration, since the Maloofs are committed to building around Artest after he headlined Sacramento's transformation from a 17-24 straggler into a playoff team.

Artest told ESPN.com in early April that he wasn't expecting to get a vote from his new bosses but that he hoped Adelman would receive a contract extension for his role in getting Sacramento's revival. "Hopefully we can stay together," Artest said at the time.

He then repeated his preference in even stronger terms after the Kings were eliminated by San Antonio in the first round. Although league rules preclude such gestures, Artest said he would forfeit next season's $7.5 million salary if Adelman and free agent-to-be Bonzi Wells were re-signed.

NBA coaching sources say Sacramento is not required to ask Dallas for permission to speak Nelson, who remains on the Mavericks' payroll as a team consultant. Nelson, who turns 66 on Monday, is a coaching free agent at season's end and thus free to entertain job offers for 2006-07.

Joe Maloof, though, said the Kings' coaching search is only just starting. Maloof anticipates team president Geoff Petrie assembling a list of candidates by week's end that is quickly whittled to four or five finalists who will be interviewed.

"We haven't talked to anyone yet," Maloof said.

Yet he did stress that the final decision on Adelman's replacement will be ownership's as much as Petrie's, in spite of Petrie's reputation as one of league's most accomplished team builders.

"We have to be heavily involved, because this decision is so important for the future of the franchise," Maloof said. "We want to do this as quickly as possible and then leave Geoff and [the new coach] alone."

ESPN.com on Tuesday identified San Antonio Spurs assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo and former Kings assistant Terry Porter, both former NBA head coaches, as likely names for Petrie's list.

Carlesimo is a natural candidate if the Kings elect to model themselves after San Antonio, as the Cleveland Cavaliers did last offseason by hiring Spurs alumni Danny Ferry and Mike Brown as their new GM-coach tandem.

Porter has been out of the league for a year after coaching the Milwaukee Bucks for two seasons and has also surfaced as a possible replacement on Flip Saunders' staff in Detroit for N.C. State-bound Sidney Lowe.

It should be noted that Nelson, fond as he is of the Maloofs, has his own reservations about a return to coaching. The Kings would have to lure him out of X-and-O retirement if they do want Nelson to come to Sacramento for an interview, after the 27-year bench veteran enjoyed what he often refers to as "the year of my life" since resigning as coach of the Mavericks in March 2005.

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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