Cavs, Jackson spoke this week

Updated: April 30, 2005, 12:49 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers have entered the Phil Jackson Coaching Sweepstakes.

The club confirmed late Friday night that it has had preliminary talks with Jackson about its head coaching vacancy.

"We've had contact with Phil Jackson and are exploring all highly successful head coaches who are in a position to speak with us," Cavaliers spokesman Tad Carper said.

Carper said the team had a phone conversation with Jackson on Thursday. He was not aware if any other talks are planned.

The Cavaliers, who missed the NBA playoffs following a late-season collapse, joined the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers in pursuit of Jackson, who won nine NBA titles as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Lakers.

While Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has said he wants to hire a general manager first to hire Cleveland's next coach, that plan could change if the club has a realistic chance of getting the 59-year-old Jackson.

But to do so, the Cavaliers will have to outbid New York and Los Angeles -- something new owner Dan Gilbert is believed to be willing to do, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

While Gilbert has said he wants to hire a general manager, who would then hire Cleveland's next coach, that plan could change if the club has a realistic chance of getting the 59-year-old Jackson.

Earlier this week, Jackson met with Knicks president Isiah Thomas. He also reportedly had a meeting in Chicago with Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

Jackson had a "very good" meeting with Thomas on Monday in Los Angeles, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported.

New York and Los Angeles would appear to be more attractive markets than Cleveland. But the lure of coaching All-Star LeBron James would seem to make the Cavaliers enticing to Jackson, who had Michael Jordan in Chicago and later Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal in Los Angeles.

Jackson was scheduled to meet with Bryant in Los Angeles this week, according to ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher.

However, sources close to Bryant said that he has not heard from Jackson about a possible meeting between the two. The sources said Bryant would not be opposed to such a get-together.

If the Cavaliers can't get Jackson, the next most likely candidate would be Cleveland native Flip Saunders, who was fired earlier this season in Minnesota.

Cleveland's season began to unravel in early March. With the team's playoff hopes fading fast, Gilbert fired Paul Silas with 18 games left. The Cavaliers then went 8-10 under interim coach Brendan Malone and finished 42-40, tied with New Jersey for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets won the tiebreaker and made the postseason. The Cavaliers haven't been to the playoffs since 1998.

Last week, Gilbert, who bought the Cavaliers for $375 million in January from Gordon Gund, continued to retool his team by firing general manager Jim Paxson with two years left on his contract.

Jackson led the Lakers to three championships in five years but left the club last June shortly after Los Angeles lost in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons. Jackson's final contract with the Lakers was a five-year, $30 million deal that could be dwarfed by his next package if he decides to return to coaching.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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