Commentary

Coaching carousel: D'Antoni aiming for Bulls?

Originally Published: May 2, 2008
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Steve Kerr and Mike D'AntoniDomenic Centofanti/Getty ImagesIn June 2007, Steve Kerr replaced Mike D'Antoni as the Phoenix Suns' general manager. Now, with D'Antoni reportedly looking to leave Phoenix, will Kerr also take over as Suns coach? He says no.

February will be remembered for an unforgettable trade frenzy. The month of May, by contrast, began with a hearty spin on the coaching carousel.

The latest from the X's-and-O's grapevine, culled from various NBA coaching sources:

Chicago Bulls coach Mike D'Antoni?

The signals are growing stronger that D'Antoni, if he gets his wish, could well be addressed as such in the very near future.

Sources say D'Antoni is increasingly likely to get an invitation to relocate to the Windy City if he can indeed extricate himself from the Suns. As covered in this cyberspace Wednesday, moving to the Eastern Conference with Chicago is an idea that has D'Antoni more than intrigued and which apparently has a few Bulls players (presumably Luol Deng and Ben Gordon) already salivating.

D'Antoni is scheduled to meet Friday with Suns owner Robert Sarver and team president Steve Kerr, who will try to convince D'Antoni that he belongs in the desert and that their in-house tensions can be defused. But sources continue to echo the sentiments revealed earlier this week bv Sports Illustrated's venerable Jack McCallum, who wrote that the highly frustrated D'Antoni considers his philosophical differences with his bosses to be "irredeemable." You'll recall that McCallum spent the 2005-06 season as a virtual member of D'Antoni's coaching staff to write the acclaimed book "Seven Seconds or Less."

D'Antoni, though, might have to quit -- with two years and $8.5 million left on his contract -- just to officially speak with the Bulls. Kerr told the Suns' flagship radio station (KTAR 620 AM) earlier this week that he would deny permission to any team wishing to interview D'Antoni.

Those Phoenix philosophical differences, in short, break down thusly:

D'Antoni considers Kerr's strategic suggestions to be meddlesome and inappropriate after the Suns' success over the past four seasons, three of which ended with playoff losses to the execution masters from San Antonio.

Suns management and a veteran player or two, I'm told, all want D'Antoni to stay. But they also want more practice time spent on defense and want to see two mistake-prone young talents -- Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa -- to be challenged more by the coaching staff and held more accountable for their mistakes.

Yet there are some in Phoenix who believe that a truce can still be reached. We should know soon.

It's a fun idea that's been floated in various places, but we're sorry to disappoint.

There's pretty much zero chance that Phoenix and Dallas will wind up swapping coaches.

D'Antoni will certainly be on the Mavericks' list if he leaves the Suns, but it's also true that Dallas is reluctant to hire a coach known almost exclusively as an offensive specialist, similar to Avery Johnson's predecessor Don Nelson.

I've likewise been reliably assured that Johnson won't even be a candidate in Phoenix if the Suns find themselves with a coaching opening to fill.

Rick Carlisle will be the first interviewee for the Mavericks' opening, but Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson did not dispute Wednesday's report here that the job would already be his if he wanted the position.

In an interview Thursday with ESPN Radio's Dallas affiliate (103.3 FM), Donnie Nelson explained that he will continue to work as owner Mark Cuban's right-hand man on the personnel side, at least in part because he thinks that there are "better candidates out there" to succeed Avery.

As everyone in the organization acknowledges, Dallas also has plenty of roster work to do after back-to-back exits in the first round and a midseason gamble on Jason Kidd that didn't immediately click and which also limits the Mavs' financial ability to make changes. Donnie Nelson will nonetheless be charged with assembling a virtually all-new bench, for starters, after the Mavs got such a limited contribution from a few free agents handpicked by Johnson (Eddie Jones, Devean George and Juwan Howard) and longtime Avery favorite Jerry Stackhouse.

"My job is to get the best guy that we can get out there," Donnie Nelson said of the Mavs' coaching search, which will certainly include Detroit's Flip Saunders if the Pistons choose not to retain him.

"I'm on the list. I'm just the last guy and hopefully it doesn't get to that. ... I'm saying we'd have to get through a very, very long list in order for [Donnie Nelson to coach the team] and don't look for it to happen."

D'Antoni has been tight-lipped since the Suns' season perished Tuesday night Kerr has likewise said that he'd prefer to withhold an extended commentary on the state of the franchise until after he and Sarver meet with the coach.

But Kerr did tell ESPN.com on Thursday that recent suggestions saying he would be a candidate to replace D'Antoni are completely untrue, reiterating his long-held stance that he wouldn't even consider coaching until his children are out of school.

Question is, then, who does Phoenix pursue if D'Antoni can't be coaxed back? There doesn't appear to be an obvious answer at this early juncture.

Turns out that Kelvin Sampson, who has been traveling with the San Antonio Spurs as an unofficial observer for good friend Gregg Popovich since his ouster from Indiana University, had two coaching options in the NBA for next season.

In addition to the opportunity which surfaced last week to join Scott Skiles' new staff as an assistant in Milwaukee, Sampson had an invite to go with Larry Brown to Charlotte. But Sampson chose to accept the offer from Skiles.

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