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SHAMS: GREGG POPOVICH IS ‘FIRST PRIORITY’ OF NETS COACHING SEARCH

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2018 USAB Minicamp Practice Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

In an exclusive report, The Athletic’s Shams Charania says the Nets “first priority” in its coaching search” will be to “seriously explore” hiring Gregg Popovich. However, Shams also suggested that actually hiring the 71-year-old is “a pipe dream.”

The Nets have a list of coaching candidates, including the incumbent Jacque Vaughn, Jason Kidd, Ty Lue, Ime Udoka and Jeff Van Gundy. Vaughn did a tremendous job coaching the Nets given the circumstances inside the NBA bubble, and will remain a significant candidate to retain the job.

However, there is another dream candidate, a coaching icon whose stature speaks for itself.

The first priority of the Nets’ coaching search has become clear: They plan to seriously explore the possibilities with Popovich, sources tell The Athletic.

Popovich expressed after the Spurs’ season ended in Orlando that he intends to continue coaching, and there is no indication right now that it would be anywhere but San Antonio. Still, sources said, the Nets will pursue the viability of Popovich.

In the interview, Shams told The Glue Guys, “If and when they request permission [to speak with Pop] and if the talks progress from there, my sense is overall that the Nets hope to have a coach locked in within the next month.”

The NBA Draft and free agency are scheduled for mid-October.

Popovich, who missed the playoffs for the first time in 23 years this season, would join one of his proteges, Sean Marks, in the Nets front office and create a huge NBA headline, uniting a coach with five championships with two of the game’s superstars, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, in New York.

Shams reports that Popovich is not just the dream candidate of the front office and presumably Joe Tsai, but also KD.

He is a favorite of Nets star Kevin Durant, league sources say, even dating as far back as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s coaching search process in 2015 (which ultimately concluded with the hire of Billy Donovan). There is known to be tremendous mutual respect between Popovich and KD.

Sean Marks has said that Durant is a “very loud voice” in discussions of the Nets future.

Although the Nets would presumably use Durant and Irving to recruit Popovich, the coach would have no problem recognizing much of the staff at HSS Training Center in Brooklyn.

Popovich has several connections to the Nets, including general manager Sean Marks, assistant GM Andy Birdsong, Vaughn, and assistant coaches Bret Brielmaier and Tiago Splitter. Marks, Vaughn and Splitter all played for Popovich in San Antonio too, with Marks and Vaughn serving as assistants under him at different points.

In fact, an informal survey by NetsDaily a few years back showed that there were no fewer than 10 connections to the Spurs in the Nets front office.

However, despite all of this, Shams suggests that going after Popovich would not be easy.

Across the NBA, Popovich, 71, leaving the franchise he has stewarded for 26 years and taking a new opportunity is deemed a pipe dream for now.

He is under a long-term contract with the Spurs and San Antonio would have to grant Brooklyn the right to even interview him. It is customary for NBA teams to grant permission if their employee is in line for a promotion, as the Spurs did with Marks.

And in the event he was hired, the Nets would have to compensate Spurs, presumably with a first round draft, if not more. As John Hollinger, Shams colleague on The Athletic, tweeted shortly after the report broke...

Shams is the second national correspondent to suggest the Nets have their eye on Popovich. Ten days ago, Dan Woike, the Los Angeles Times reporter inside the “bubble,” reported that the Nets are “expected” to make a run at Popovich, but ultimately he believes the pursuit will be “unsuccessful.”

At the same time, Stefan Bondy tweeted that “Tsai wants to make the push for Popovich.” Bondy has also written about a possible pursuit of Pop.

Marks and Popovich have both been asked about it in recent weeks, but neither gave pundits any confirmation.

“Pop has a job. So, I will say that,” Marks told WFAN in early July. “And, obviously, we all know he’s an amazing, amazing coach, and to be quite frank, an even better leader. So, I’ll let Pop continue to coach for the Spurs. He owes it to them and they owe it to him. I’m sure he’s quite happy there.”

Asked before the Spurs’ exit from the “bubble” whether or not he’d be back to coach the Spurs next season, Popovich said, “Why wouldn’t I?”

The Nets coaching search is expected to begin immediately now that they have been eliminated from the playoffs.

Meanwhile, with Monday’s firing of the 76ers Brett Brown, there’s yet another high profile coaching job opening and reports out of Philadelphia are that Ty Lue, now an assistant with the Lakers, could be in line for jobs in Brooklyn, Philadelphia or New Orleans.

In fact, Keith Pompey, long time beat writer for the Philadelphia newspapers, reports that Lue “expects an offer” from the Nets.

Even before Monday’s developments, it was expected that the Nets, with superstars, a home in New York and a megarich owner in Tsai, would be one of the top coaching jobs in the NBA.