Donnie Walsh and John Paxson, personnel bosses of the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, respectively, flew to Phoenix to interview Suns coach Mike D'Antoni about their head-coaching vacancies, SI.com has learned.
One of those interviews took place Sunday night and the other was scheduled for Monday, according to a league source. No job offers had been tendered as of early Monday afternoon.
D'Antoni, Walsh and Paxson didn't return calls for comment.
D'Antoni met for about three hours last Friday with Suns managing partner Robert Sarver and general manager Steve Kerr, who described the session as "productive." Last week, Kerr said the Suns would not give D'Antoni, who has two years remaining on his contract, permission to talk to other teams. That changed over the weekend when D'Antoni was given that clearance, as first reported by KTAR-AM, a Phoenix radio station.
D'Antoni, who took the Suns to two Western Conference finals in four full seasons but suffered a disappointing first-round loss to the San Antonio Spurs this season, has beeen miffed at what he sees as public criticism of his coaching by management. Kerr, a former player, believes that strategic changes have to be made but has publicly insisted that he does not want to fire D'Antoni.
"We value Mike D'Antoni as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns and would like him to continue leading this basketball team," Kerr said in a statement issued Monday afternoon. "Because he has requested to speak to other teams about their head-coaching vacancies, we have granted him permission."
Still, it seems untenable that D'Antoni would remain in Phoenix after constant media accounts of a rift, followed by job interviews with two high-profile franchises. It was first reported by SI.com, after the Suns were eliminated in Game 5 last Tuesday, that D'Antoni would not be back as coach next season.
Avery Johnson, the NBA's Coach of the Year for the 2005-06 season, the year after D'Antoni won the award, has also been mentioned as a candidate for the Bulls and Knicks. He was fired by the Dallas Mavericks after their first-round exit, also in five games, to the New Orleans Hornets. Johnson and D'Antoni present a contrast in styles, the former a controlling, defensive-oriented coach, the latter an aficionado of entertaining, open-court offense.