Sources: Wolves search narrows
LAS VEGAS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves' deliberate coaching search will soon move into its next phase with ESPN/ABC analyst Mark Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis and Houston Rockets assistant coach Elston Turner expected to progress to the deciding round of interviews, according to NBA coaching sources.
There might be others who advance -- it's believed that Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Terry Stotts could also be invited back for a second interview -- but the one certainty known Monday, according to one source familiar with the process, is that the next round will feature a much smaller number than the first.
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After his May 22 hiring, new Wolves president David Kahn made it clear that he would not begin searching for his first coach until after the June 25 draft. Since the draft, though, Kahn has carried out his intent to interview as many as 15 candidates, while also continuing negotiations on a European buyout for No. 5 overall pick Ricky Rubio.
Kahn has made it a general policy not to comment on the coaching search while it's ongoing and declined again Monday to offer specifics, but it is no secret at the NBA's annual summer league in Las Vegas that he is working on two fronts.
He had a meeting Monday with Houston's Turner and also joined owner Glen Taylor in talks with Rubio's agent, Dan Fegan, as the Wolves attempt to convince Rubio -- whose buyout from Spanish club DJK Joventut is believed to be in the $4 million to $5 million range -- that they have no plans to trade him to a more inviting destination and that his long-term future is in Minnesota.
Jackson has long been regarded as future head-coaching material and quickly emerged as a strong favorite for the post thanks in part to his association with Kahn when both were with the Indiana Pacers. But the Wolves, sources said, have strong interest as well in Rambis, who turned down the chance during the NBA Finals to take the Sacramento Kings' job that ultimately went to Paul Westphal.
Rambis posted a 24-13 record as the Lakers' head coach during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season before moving to Phil Jackson's staff as an assistant. He is often described in Lakers circles as a name on the short list of coaches who will be considered as a full-time successor to Jackson.
Turner is said to have impressed in his Monday meeting with Kahn after getting interviews in recent years with the Phoenix Suns and Kings. Stotts, meanwhile, is one of the few interviewees on Minnesota's list who has head-coaching experience in the NBA, having posted a record of 115-168 in two full seasons and two partial seasons with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.
Other candidates believed to have been interviewed by Kahn include former WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer, Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw and Monty Williams and Dean Demopoulos from the staff of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Although former Wolves forward Sam Mitchell has been frequently linked with the position, ranking as a longtime favorite of team owner Glen Taylor, sources said Mitchell has not been summoned to interview for the post, with Minnesota believed to be intent on hiring an up-and-coming coach from a lower salary bracket than Mitchell's after a stint with the Toronto Raptors that included NBA Coach of the Year honors for Mitchell in 2007
In a recent blog entry addressing the drawn-out nature of the search for McHale's successor, Wolves forward Mark Madsen wrote: "I spoke to David Kahn today in fact by phone and I came away thinking to myself that here is a guy who is leaving no stone unturned in the coaching search as well as the free agency market."
Madsen added that "we did talk about our style of play for the coming season and he told me that we're going to be a running team."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.