As Nets' search begins, Jackson looms as Prokhorov's key 'suspect'

The Nets' search for a permanent replacement for Avery Johnson began in earnest Friday with owner Mikhail Prokhorov's arrival in New York to begin internal discussions with the team's front office. The process has the potential to be quick, protracted or cut short before it even begins.

It all could depend on the key figure in the process, 11-time champion coach Phil Jackson, who would fit Prokhorov's description Friday as one of the "usual suspects" when a high-profile coaching job becomes vacant. Jackson, stunningly passed over for the Lakers' opening after Mike Brown was abruptly fired last month, is interested in exploring the opportunity in Brooklyn. The Nets are interested in sitting down with him, too, as sources told CBSSports.com Friday that Brooklyn officials plan to reach out to Jackson to gage his interest in the job.

If Jackson and the Nets fail to have a meeting of the minds on the many complicated factors that would go into a return to the bench for the most decorated coach in basketball, it is conceivable that Brooklyn will decide to finish the season with P.J. Carlesimo as coach and renew their search in the offseason, according to a league source briefed on the Nets' preliminary strategy.

At that point, the list of candidates would be significantly longer and could include assistant coaches currently under contract with other teams. But as Prokhorov arrived in New York Friday to address the coaching situation personally, the list of significant candidates that Nets GM Billy King was expected to put on the table consisted essentially of Jackson, former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, former Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan and former Clippers, Blazers, Bucks and Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy, a person familiar with the Nets' plan said.

While Jackson's agent, Todd Musburger, has stated publicly that he isn't interested in the job "at this time," Jackson is "intrigued" and "for sure" would like to have the conversations necessary to determine if there is a fit, a person familiar with his thinking said. Dunleavy said on his national radio show on Sirius-XM Friday that coaching in his native Brooklyn would be "a dream come true," while Van Gundy told CBSSports.com: "I would never comment or talk to a team that has a coach in place. Totally inappropriate for me or anyone to be talking about a job where a coach is in place."

McMillan, who has a strong relationship with Nets star Deron Williams from their time together with Team USA, has not commented publicly on the team's interest in him. As of Friday, the Nets had not contacted any potential candidate for the job and did not plan to do so until Prokhorov arrived in New York and was fully briefed on the situation.

Addressing reporters before the Nets' 97-81 victory over Charlotte in Carlesimo's debut, Prokhorov called the team's .500 start "totally unacceptable."

"We are ready to pay any expense to bring talent to the Nets and we have very talented players, but they are capable of much more," Prokhorov said.

The Nets fired Johnson on Thursday after a 14-14 start that included a tailspin of 10 losses in 13 games. Prokhorov said before the season that the team would have to advance to the conference finals for it to be considered a successful season.

 
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