Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans' head-coaching position, according to league sources. Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.
Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.
Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau's contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Mondaythat the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.
Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy's return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West's last playoff spot.
On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans' post.
"I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings," he said. "That's really not my style. So I'll just leave it as I've said many times.
"I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don't get into the public domain on that. I just don't think it's right."
Former Thunder coach Scott Brooks, sources said, has so far declined to interview for the Pelicans' job, with Yahoo! Sports reporting this week that Brooks is considering sitting out a year to focus on family and perhaps sample TV work, despite interest from all three teams with openings: New Orleans, Orlando and Denver.
ESPN.com reported this week that the chances of Nuggets interim coach Melvin Hunt keeping the job have improved since the end of the regular season. Sources say former Suns, Knicks and Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni -- whose NBA head-coaching debut came with Denver in the work stoppage-shortened 50-game 1998-99 season -- also remains on the Nuggets' radar.
In Orlando, former Magic backcourt standout Scott Skiles and ex-Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone continue to be frequently mentioned as targets, in addition to Thibodeau, who has two years and $9 million left on his contract with the Bulls.
There have been no indications to date as to how the parties in Chicago will proceed with a divorce widely anticipated in NBA coaching circles. Since Chicago's playoff elimination, Thibodeau has continued to report daily to the Bulls' offices, despite the team's well-chronicled interest in hiring Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg to replace him. Thibodeau is a Van Gundy disciple, with both men regarded as hard-driving, high-intensity, consistently successful coaches.
Gentry, meanwhile, is known leaguewide as an offensive innovator who, after his time under D'Antoni in Phoenix, led the Suns to the Western Conference finals in 2010 and helped Steve Kerr craft a Golden State offense that draws from the sets popularized by the Steve Nash-era Suns, as well as the heavy reliance on ball movement seen in Gregg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs over the past few seasons.
The idea of playing at a faster pace -- to take advantage of Davis' athletic gifts -- is a frequent talking point in New Orleans after the Pelicans, under Williams, ranked 27th in pace the past season.