Sources: Hornets contact TNT's Collins about coaching job

The New Orleans Hornets have established preliminary contact with television analyst Doug Collins about their coaching opening, ESPN.com has learned.

NBA coaching sources said Friday that Collins is among the high-profile candidates -- along with ESPN analysts Avery Johnson and Jeff Van Gundy -- that the Hornets have contacted to gauge their interest in the job.

On Wednesday, without specifically addressing any of those three candidates, team president Hugh Weber told local reporters that the Hornets were willing to pay top dollar for a new coach and said: “I think we’d gravitate towards someone’s who had success on the pro level.”

The Hornets announced earlier this week that interim head coach Jeff Bower, after posting a 34-39 record despite being denied the services of star guard Chris Paul for 37 of those games, was returning to his GM duties to head the search for a new full-time coach.

Collins, who worked Thursday night’s Lakers-Thunder game in Oklahoma City, could not be immediately reached for comment.

New Orleans has not formally started the interview process but has actively begun compiling its list of potential candidates.

ESPN.com reported earlier this week that, while final details regarding the proposed sale of the team from longtime owner George Shinn to minority owner Gary Chouest continue to be negotiated, sources close to the situation insist that the sale will be completed soon and that Chouest -- in a much stronger financial position than Shinn -- is prepared to court top-tier coaching candidates.

The Hornets, though, are also expected to consider top assistant coaches whose teams are still in the playoffs. Those candidates, sources say, include Dallas’ Dwane Casey, Boston’s Tom Thibodeau and Portland’s Monty Williams.

Yahoo! Sports reported earlier this week that former New Jersey Nets coach Lawrence Frank and San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer will also be considered.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported in Friday’s editions that New Orleans native Johnson and Van Gundy, like Collins, have already been contacted, although it remains unclear whether Van Gundy – one of Bower’s longtime friends – can be lured away from his TV work.

Johnson has been working for ESPN for the past the seasons after leaving the Dallas Mavericks in May 2008 with a gaudy record of 194-70 over three-plus seasons. Van Gundy has been a broadcaster for ESPN and ABC since leaving the Houston Rockets following the 2006-07 season.

Collins, 58, last coached in the NBA in 2003 but has been approached by several teams in the intervening years, most recently Milwaukee and Chicago in the summer of 2008 and Philadelphia and Detroit in 2009. Yet he has preferred to stay in TV, which keeps him connected to the game but also enables him to stay close to his family.

Coaching sources, however, say that Collins, as he has with the aforementioned teams, would listen to New Orleans’ pitch if Chouest takes over majority control of the Hornets as expected.

The Los Angeles Clippers, New Jersey Nets, Sixers and Hornets have the league's four current coaching openings.