Sources: Bulls, D'Antoni hold 'advanced' discussions

Updated: May 10, 2008, 1:25 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The two-team chase for Mike D'Antoni intensified when the outgoing Phoenix Suns coach held his most substantive talks yet with the Chicago Bulls in a late-evening conference call with team officials.

Sources close to the process likened these "advanced" discussions with the Bulls to Thursday's talks with the New York Knicks during which D'Antoni, through agent Warren LeGarie, learned what sort of contract figures and job parameters New York has in mind.

That potential deal would make D'Antoni the third highest-paid coach in the league behind the Los Angeles Lakers' Phil Jackson (who earns $12 million annually) and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich ($7 million annually, plus undisclosed bonus compensation for his front-office duties).

The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, reported on Saturday that Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who owns a home in the Phoenix area, planned to meet face-to-face over the weekend with D'Antoni.

That would be the clearest indication yet that D'Antoni, as described by NBA coaching sources all week, is Chicago's top choice to fill a void created by the dismissals of Scott Skiles and interim successor Jim Boylan, in spite of any philosophical concerns that Chicago general manager John Paxson might have about hiring such an offensive-minded coach.

D'Antoni's strong desire to land the Bulls' job emerged even before the Suns gave him permission to pursue a new job. Sources maintain that he's still determined to get to Chicago and that Paxson -- while conservative and defensively focused like his Phoenix counterpart and close friend Steve Kerr -- is excited about the offensive potential he sees in pairing D'Antoni, widely deemed the NBA's foremost run-and-gun coach, with his young, skilled roster.

But ESPN.com reported late Thursday that the Knicks have likewise made D'Antoni their No. 1 coaching target as well -- even with ESPN analyst and Knicks legend Mark Jackson still prominent in their thinking -- and were on the verge of offering D'Antoni a five-year deal in the $30 million range.

On Saturday morning, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported that Knicks president Donnie Walsh did extend a tangible offer: $24 million over four years.

Walsh, through a team spokesman, announced Thursday before either report appeared that the Knicks had "not offered anyone a coaching contract." The Knicks refused to discuss any of their dealings with D'Antoni when asked for a follow-up comment Friday.

LeGarie told The New York Times that he expects to have concrete offers from both teams "within the next day or so." But the Knicks and Bulls are unlikely to publicly acknowledge a formal offer, since only one team can hire D'Antoni, leaving the other to face questions about settling for their second choice.

In the Bulls' case, if they don't land D'Antoni, Chicago is expected to pursue a more cost-friendly option such as Boston Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau, who is widely credited for the Celtics' defensive transformation this season.

Questions persist about how much Reinsdorf is willing to spend on a new coach, even after the Tribune reported that the money still owed Skiles -- which the newspaper listed as roughly $3.5 million -- is spread out over the next four seasons and thus not a significant factor in the D'Antoni derby. But NBA coaching sources continue to say that Reinsdorf, not exactly known as an free-spender, has an aversion to a: the idea of trying to outbid New York, and b: offering a long-term contract in the $4 million range annually, after Skiles made it less than 2½ years through a four-year contract.

The Knicks, meanwhile, appear poised to hire Jackson if their considerable financial might -- as well as the opportunity to be the guy, along with Walsh, who resurrects the storied, but decaying, franchise -- doesn't convince D'Antoni to spurn the Bulls.

Hopes of a resolution by Monday -- with the Suns hoping more than anyone so they can get their search for D'Antoni's replacement started -- appear to be fading. And all indications in Phoenix continue to suggest that D'Antoni will never coach another game for the Suns' current regime, as D'Antoni has been saying privately for days.

Although Suns guard Steve Nash said at a charity function Friday that he hopes and expects D'Antoni to stay in the desert, sources indicate that Suns management sees zero hope in trying to reconcile given the public deterioration of the relationship with his bosses and a very public crusade to find a new job.

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.

It's also still unclear who Phoenix will pursue to replace D'Antoni. 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 the NBA. And league 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.

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.

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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