Hoops legends in demand

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

It's like a dysfunctional game of musical chairs in which nobody can hear the same song.

Listening to jazz, Larry Brown. Listening to folk, Flip Saunders. Listening to an obscure spiritual chant, Phil Jackson.

They're three high-profile, experienced, sought-after NBA coaches with impressive resumes. And virtually the entire league is waiting for them to decide what they want to do, and where they want to do it.

But who gets to decide first?

Jackson and Saunders technically are unemployed at the moment. Jackson has coached nine championship teams. Saunders guided the Minnesota Timberwolves from laughing-stock to contender before things fell apart and he was fired a few months ago. He still has a year left on his contract, though, which could create compensation complications.

Brown currently is employed by the defending-champion Detroit Pistons, who still are competing in the playoffs and probably will be for quite some time. And in a lot of ways, that's what is holding things up.

Brown may or may not coach next season, primarily because of health concerns. Either way, teams like the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Timberwolves and the Cleveland Cavaliers, all of whom are looking for new coaches, are waiting for that first big name to grab a chair, after which a mad scramble will ensue.

Knicks president Isiah Thomas broached the subject of Jackson becoming the club's coach and general manager during a meeting early last week. However, Jackson said he had no interest in management.

It's worth remembering, though, that specific job titles continue to mean less and less in the NBA, which specializes in front-office finagling.

There are quite a few GMs who don't have anywhere near the clout GMs used to have traditionally. Instead, they essentially are doing what assistant GMs used to do, with the real decision-making power in the hands of executive vice-presidents and special advisers.

Of course, the Raptors know nothing of such mystifying chains of command, right?

Anyway, why Thomas would have made such an overture to Jackson is open to speculation. Some think the meeting merely was for show, with Thomas covering his own butt by being seen to have wooed Jackson. Either way, Jackson may have zero interest in coaching such a bad squad.

Jackson has Knicks blue in his blood from his playing days, but he's used to winning titles both as a player and a coach, and the Knicks are about three years away from being three years away.

That said, the Lakers aren't exactly chugging along on the ring road, either, and the majority opinion suggests Hollywood is where Jackson is going to end up.

We realize the majority opinion isn't always right. You need look no further than the weekly TV ratings or box-office returns to know that.

Regardless, the mere notion of Jackson's return to L.A. being plausible marks a stunning reversal from a year ago, when the power of Kobe Bryant was supposed to be strong enough to withstand the losses of Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal. Funny how winning 30-something games and missing the playoffs can change perspectives (except, you know, in Toronto).

It was thought for a while that the real prize was the Cleveland job. Who wouldn't want to coach a young LeBron James? It's a career-maker for the right bench boss.

Well, that was before new Cavs owner Dan Gilbert revealed himself to be, well, a tad volatile. There now are serious questions about James' long-term commitment to the turmoil-engulfed club, and that obviously makes the coaching position considerably less attractive.

There have been reports Jackson is out of the running in Cleveland, which may mean Saunders now has the right of first refusal. But James might be angling for Nate McMillan, whose contract with the surprising Seattle SuperSonics is set to expire.

Meanwhile, Jackson's supposed return to the Lakers is muddied by Brown's uncertainty. He had to sit out a chunk of this past regular season because of hip surgery and illness, so he wants to wait till the playoffs are over to have a long talk with his wife about what the future holds.

Bryant likes Brown, but can the Lakers afford to wait? For that matter, can the Cavaliers? Can the Knicks?

Seats are open, but the music keeps playing.


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