Television analyst Doug Collins, one of two heavy favorites to fill the Detroit Pistons' sudden coaching vacancy, has withdrawn from consideration for the job.
Collins told ESPN.com on Wednesday night that he called Joe Dumars to thank the Pistons president for considering him and inform him of his preference to stay in television. That would appear to leave an unobstructed path to the job for ex-Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, who just completed his first season in TV as an analyst for ESPN.
Johnson and Dumars have had discussions this week about the job in the wake of Michael Curry's dismissal Tuesday, but sources close to the situation told ESPN that an agreement between Johnson and the Pistons has not yet been finalized.
But Johnson appears to have no challenger now, barring unexpected developments, with the Pistons' coaching search returning to the top of Dumars' agenda Thursday. Sources said that Dumars was consumed Wednesday by negotiations with free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, which resulted in both players making verbal commitments to sign with the Pistons on July 8 when the leaguewide moratorium on signings and trades is lifted.
After firing Curry mere hours before the start of free agency, Dumars announced on the team's Web site that he hopes to have a new coach in place early next week.
"My goal is to have a head coach in place by the time we go out to Las Vegas," Dumars said in a video posted on the team site. The summer league in Vegas runs from July 10-19.
Amid ongoing concerns about Curry's command of the locker room and fears that keeping him could hamper Detroit's offseason business, Dumars abruptly decided to make a change after the Pistons -- in a season of transition after the early November trade of Chauncey Billups to Denver -- went 39-43 and suffered a four-game sweep in the first round to Cleveland.
In the video, Dumars said Detroit needs a more experienced coach as it moves to integrate new players with holdovers such as Richard Hamilton, whose relationship with Curry had deteriorated beyond repair.
Collins, who coached Dumars in Detroit in the mid-1990s, last coached in the NBA in 2003 but has been linked to several jobs in the intervening years, most recently Philadelphia's opening filled by Eddie Jordan in May and his near-return to the Chicago Bulls after the 2007-08 season.
Johnson also experienced some friction with players in his three-plus seasons in charge in Dallas but is also regarded as one of the game's top young coaches, after guiding the Mavericks to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history in his first full season (2005-06) and sporting a gaudy regular-season record of 194-70.
"We think it's best to move forward with a more experienced coach to get us through these times right now," Dumars said. "We're going through a transition now where we're bringing back some of the veterans, we're implementing some of the younger guys.
"That's probably a little bit too much for a first-time head coach. ... It's a little bit unfair of me to put him in that situation."
Sources told ESPN.com that the Pistons had been contemplating the move for weeks after Curry's rocky debut season. Dumars finally decided to go ahead with the change when he did -- difficult as it was to fire a former teammate after just one season -- in part to help maintain Detroit's position as the team with the most free-agent ammunition this summer.
Former Pistons center Bill Laimbeer, who recently resigned as coach of the WNBA's Detroit Shock to pursue NBA coaching opportunities, remains unlikely to be considered as a replacement, sources say.
Curry was an assistant to Flip Saunders for just one season before he was hired to replace Saunders, but gradually lost support from Detroit's veterans -- most notably popular shooting guard Hamilton -- after he elected to move Hamilton to the bench to accommodate November trade acquisition Allen Iverson. An irretrievable relationship with Hamilton, doubts about how Curry would cope if Hamilton is not traded this summer and the potential negative impact such tensions could have on recruiting free agents prompted Tuesday's sudden announcement from Dumars.
The next coach will be Dumars' sixth in 10 seasons as the head of Detroit's basketball operations, but he has shown no hesitation throughout his reign to react quickly to perceived mistakes, as evidenced by trading away former No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic and a subsequent trade of Nazr Mohammed shortly after signing him to a long-term contract.
It remains unclear how Curry's departure or Gordon's forthcoming arrival will affect Hamilton's future, since there were signals in recent weeks that Hamilton could be traded away to make room for Gordon.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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