Isiah Thomas, a former NBA all-star guard with the Detroit Pistons and recently a minority owner of the Toronto Raptors, appears to be a front-runner for the Washington Wizards' coaching job, according to several sources who confirmed that there have been conversations between Thomas and the Wizards.
Thomas and at least one member of the Wizards' front office spoke yesterday in the latest stage of ongoing talks, a source said.
Wizards General Manager Wes Unseld declined to comment and Thomas did not return phone messages left at the offices of his Detroit-based charity foundation. Thomas was said to be in New York, where he will work as a studio analyst for NBC for tonight's Western Conference final between the Portland Trail Blazers and the San Antonio Spurs.
Other candidates who have interviewed with the Wizards said they spoke to Unseld once and Unseld said last week that he had not had any second conversations with any of the prospects he had interviewed, including Jim Brovelli, who replaced Bernie Bickerstaff on an interim basis after Bickerstaff was fired April 5. One of the candidates, Glenn "Doc" Rivers, is expected to finalize a deal with the Orlando Magic as early as today. Rivers said last night that Washington had not made further contact with him even though it was known that he was negotiating with Orlando.
Pistons assistant Gar Heard, also believed to be high on Washington's list, said he has not heard from Unseld and added that Rivers's situation with Orlando does not give him an inside track to the Wizards' job. The Wizards have not contacted Mike Fratello, fired this week as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, said Fratello's attorney, Lonnie Cooper.
Thomas, 38, has never coached. He guided the Pistons to championships in 1989 and 1990 and was vice president/ general manager and part owner of the Raptors from 1994 to '97. He left on contentious terms with ownership after he failed in an attempt to buy the team. Sources close to Thomas said he wants to return to a front office job but would not shy away from coaching. That would be a departure from his thinking while in Toronto.
Should Washington offer Thomas the job, it is believed that he would seek some sort of ownership and/or additional duties in management, if not in the short term then in the latter stages of his contract. Unseld, shortly after firing Bickerstaff, said he would turn over some of his responsibilities to the next coach if that would be in the team's best interest.
Although Thomas maintains a prominent profile and is highly regarded in the NBA, his recent anti-union comments during the lockout upset some players, including Wizards free agent Mitch Richmond. Richmond, along with teammate Juwan Howard, were members of the union's negotiating committee.