Sources: Knicks ante up, D'Antoni waits for Bulls' counter
The New York Knicks on Thursday outlined the lucrative parameters of a five-year deal they're prepared to give new No. 1 coaching target Mike D'Antoni, according to NBA coaching sources.
Nash Expects No Change
Steve Nash really likes Mike D'Antoni as his coach, but the Bulls and Knicks would love to have him, too. Still, Nash expects D'Antoni to be back on the Suns' bench next season. Story
A rival proposal from the Chicago Bulls -- the team many still favor to land D'Antoni -- is expected by Sunday at the latest, sources said.
Although Knicks president Donnie Walsh, through a team spokesman, insisted Thursday night that the Knicks have not offered "anyone" a coaching contract, that might just be a technicality. Sources close to the process say D'Antoni, who celebrated his 57th birthday Thursday, has had advanced discussions with the Knicks about leaving the desert for Manhattan.
The Phoenix Suns' coach will naturally wait to hear what the Bulls present before continuing or breaking off his dialogue with New York, given his well-established interest in the Bulls' opening and his standing as Chicago's top choice.
But the latest estimates on the five-year package New York is prepared to formally put on the table fall in the $30 million range. Although that figure had been projected Wednesday by coaching sources to be even more "staggering," it's a level of annual compensation exceeded by only a few coaches in the game, such as Phil Jackson and recent coaching retiree Pat Riley.
ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher, quoting a source close to D'Antoni, reported on SportsCenter early Friday that D'Antoni is leaning toward taking the New York job.
It remains to be seen how high the Bulls are willing to go financially in comparison and how much security their pitch will afford. The Chicago Tribune reported in Thursday's editions the Bulls are determined to "pay D'Antoni only on their terms" and won't engage in a "protracted price war" with the Knicks.
Questions surrounding the Bulls' willingness to spend for a coach of D'Antoni's caliber have been circulating for days, thanks largely to the $4 million Chicago still owes Scott Skiles for next season.
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf authorized a $5 million farewell payment for Skiles after firing him on Christmas Eve that -- unlike in most NBA coaching arrangements -- was not wiped out by the new four-year, $18 million contract that Skiles received last month from the Milwaukee Bucks.
But sources close to the process contend D'Antoni remains determined to go to Chicago as long as the Bulls assemble a quality offer. D'Antoni is scheduled to earn $4 million and $4.5 million in the final two seasons of his Suns contract.
It was widely assumed -- even by the Knicks to some degree -- that New York's emergence as a rival to Chicago was pursued by the D'Antoni camp strictly to get the Bulls to make a more substantial bid. That perception is changing. The word Thursday night in NBA coaching circles suggested that D'Antoni is ready to team up with Walsh if his talks with the Bulls dissolve.
It's believed the chase will extend through the weekend, with Monday serving as an unofficial target date for D'Antoni -- and the Suns -- to know where he'll be coaching next season.
The Suns want to accelerate their own search but have resisted contacting prospective candidates until they know D'Antoni has a new job. It's unclear what would happen if D'Antoni can't reach an accord with the Bulls or the Knicks, since Phoenix refuses to fire him and pay off the rest of his contract and since D'Antoni won't walk away from the money. But sources indicate Suns management -- as D'Antoni has been saying privately for days -- has no interest in trying to bring him back as coach given the public deterioration of his relationship with his bosses and an even more public crusade to find a new job.
It's still unclear who Phoenix will pursue to replace D'Antoni. Team president Steve Kerr insists he's years away from considering a coaching job, TNT analyst Doug Collins said Wednesday night he has "no interest" in being a head coach again in this league and NBA coaching sources told ESPN.com the Suns do not plan to consider recently fired Dallas coach Avery Johnson, who also appears to be a back-burner candidate at best in both New York and Chicago.
The Bulls are expected to pursue a less experienced (and thus less expensive) alternative to D'Antoni, namely Boston Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau, if a deal can't be struck.
New York, meanwhile, will almost certainly turn to Walsh's original favorite in New York -- Knicks alumnus and ESPN analyst Mark Jackson -- if D'Antoni resists the Knicks' lucrative pitch, perhaps as early as next week.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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