Sources: Thomas, Clippers talk
NEW YORK -- Isiah Thomas is actively seeking work again, and he spoke several weeks ago with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in a meeting arranged by current coach/general manager Mike Dunleavy, ESPN.com learned Wednesday.
Several NBA sources confirmed the February meeting between the former president and general manager of the New York Knicks, adding that there were follow-up discussions between Thomas and other high-ranking club officials -- but also stressing that no job has been offered.
Sterling is said to be considering adding another executive to the Los Angeles front office to alleviate some of Dunleavy's responsibilities in his dual role as coach and general manager. Former Lakers and Grizzlies general manager Jerry West was linked to a possible Clippers front office job before he publicly disavowed any interest.
The discussions between Thomas and the Clippers were described by one source as informal yet substantive. Thomas remains under contract to the Knicks for the remainder of this season and two more, but he has the franchise's permission to seek employment elsewhere. He was fired as Knicks coach and general manager last spring and was replaced by Donnie Walsh in the front office and Mike D'Antoni on the bench.
One source with knowledge of Thomas' thinking said it now appears he has shifted his focus to pursuing a head coaching position at the college level. The same source said Thomas' name was discussed at the highest levels of the Grizzlies organization when Memphis fired Marc Iavaroni earlier this season.
Thomas' stint running the Knicks was as unsuccessful as it was uncomfortable. He hired and then fired Lenny Wilkins and Larry Brown, was a defendant in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former marketing executive that MSG lost and was the object of taunts, protects and chants from disgruntled fans throughout 2007-08.
He has still not commented publicly on the circumstances surrounding an overdose of sleeping pills that hospitalized him last October, but he has not been keeping a low profile. He was spotted two weeks ago scouting the Pac-10 tournament and told The Associated Press: "I've still been very active, seeing a lot of games and doing a lot of scouting and looking forward to helping Donnie with the draft."
Dunleavy, who also has two more seasons after this one remaining on his contract, has been coach of the Clippers since the start of the 2003-04 season, making him the league's third-most tenured coach behind Utah's Jerry Sloan and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich.
The Clippers' firing of longtime vice president Elgin Baylor earlier this season -- and Baylor's subsequent lawsuit alleging racial discrimination -- has left Dunleavy in a position of unusual strength, and one source insisted that all the recent speculation regarding West and/or Randy Pfund joining the front office was a smoke screen to defray the criticism of the franchise that has arisen since Baylor's lawsuit was filed. Additionally, Clippers brass are said to be pleased with the work of current assistant general manager Neil Olshey, and generally are more concerned with Dunleavy's effectiveness as a coach than as a general manager.
Dunleavy has generally won praise for his salary cap management and his most recent personnel moves such as signing Baron Davis, acquiring Zach Randolph from New York for Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley, drafting Eric Gordon and acquiring roughly $2 million in cash considerations over the course of this season from teams dumping salaries.
Dunleavy's coaching is actually the area where the most justifiable criticism could be directed. The Clippers entered Wednesday night's game against New York 37 games under .500. He has clashed with some Clippers players, most notably Davis and Chris Kaman, although Sterling has been publicly supportive of Dunleavy and overtly critical of his players, most recently when he went on a postgame rant in the locker room after a loss to San Antonio earlier this month.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.