Undaunted by Phil Jackson's reported reluctance to coach their team, Brooklyn Nets officials have established Jackson as their top target in the wake of Avery Johnson's dismissal, according to NBA coaching sources.
Sources told ESPN.com on Thursday the Nets have Jackson atop their list of potential replacements for Johnson and will make a hard push for the 67-year-old, who appeared close to returning for a third stint with the Los Angeles Lakers in November before L.A. unexpectedly gave the job to Mike D'Antoni.
Jackson's longtime representative, Todd Musburger, told TNT's David Aldridge on Thursday that his client has "no interest in the Nets' job at this time." But a source told ESPN that Jackson would indeed entertain an approach from Brooklyn and that his flirtation with the Lakers after Mike Brown's dismissal five games into the season got him "thinking about coaching again."
Another source insisted Thursday night that the Lakers' presumed reluctance to give Jackson what he wanted, in terms of salary and say in basketball matters, would not be an issue with the Nets, thanks largely to the deep pockets and affinity for stars of billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Luring the 11-time champion out of retirement would be a coup on a number of fronts for the Nets. Jackson would not only rank as an undeniably elite coach imported to reignite Deron Williams' career, but also would give Prokhorov the privilege of ramping up the Nets' rivalry with the storied New York Knicks by hiring a Knicks legend. Jackson was a top reserve on the Knicks' championship team as a player in 1973 and long has described famed Knicks coach Red Holzman as his mentor.
It's also worth noting that Williams, in his recent critique of Johnson's offense, described himself as "a system player." Jackson, with his triangle offense, is arguably the NBA's foremost system coach, provided he can be talked into one more job after the disappointment of losing out to D'Antoni after thinking he'd be getting the Lakers' job for a third time.
Specifically where the Nets would turn in the event Jackson ultimately passes is not immediately clear. There are a number of top coaching names available in addition to Jackson, but Stan Van Gundy said he has no interest in the job. Jerry Sloan would appear to be a serious long-shot candidate given the tension with Williams before Sloan's resignation in Utah in February 2011 and the Jazz's subsequent trade of Williams to the Nets even after Sloan stepped down.
One coaching source advised Thursday that an approach for Southern Methodist University's Larry Brown could not be ruled out, even with Brown in his first season at SMU, because of Brown's close relationship with Nets general manager Billy King. Other veteran coaches available include Nate McMillan, Mike Dunleavy and the ESPN duo of Jeff Van Gundy and Flip Saunders.
After head-coaching stops in Portland, Golden State and Seattle/Oklahoma City, P.J. Carlesimo was named Brooklyn's interim coach Thursday after Johnson's firing and was told by King to approach the job "like he's going to coach the team for the next 10 years."