<
>

Cavs, Jackson spoke this week

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.