The Milwaukee Bucks, having already scored the No. 1 pick in next week's draft, decided Wednesday to thrust themselves into the NBA coaching sweepstakes by firing Terry Porter.
The Bucks, according to NBA front-office sources, made the unexpected move in hopes of attracting Flip Saunders or Nate McMillan -- or a similarly experienced coach -- to Milwaukee.
Another motivation, sources said, was giving Porter the chance to make a run at the Portland job, with the Bucks unwilling to extend Porter's contract. The Trail Blazers, who drafted Porter out of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1985, still have an opening. Porter was entering the final season of a three-year deal with the Bucks but with no extension offer on the table.
Although they're not alone in chasing Saunders and McMillan -- Detroit has interest in both should Larry Brown leave the Pistons' bench as expected -- Milwaukee's situation could tempt a veteran.
Besides the No. 1 pick it surprisingly won in last month's lottery, setting up a choice between Utah's Andrew Bogut and North Carolina's Marvin Williams, Milwaukee is expected to re-sign shooting guard Michael Redd this summer and still have considerable leftover salary-cap room for roster upgrades. The Bucks are also cautiously optimistic that point guard T.J. Ford will be back next season after sitting out the 2004-05 season with a back injury.
Bucks general manager Larry Harris announced May 6 that Porter would be retained for the final season of his contract without an extension. Porter assistant coaches Mike Schuler and Jerome Kersey were dismissed.
In the six weeks since, sources said, the Bucks grew increasingly apprehensive about bringing Porter back as a lame-duck coach, fearing a repeat of what the Denver Nuggets endured at the start of last season with Jeff Bzdelik.
Bzdelik began the season without an extension and facing high expectations after Denver paired Kenyon Martin with Carmelo Anthony, but the Nuggets lurched to a 13-15 start amid constant speculation about Bzdelik's imminent firing.
Harris said the Bucks will focus on next week's draft while
starting immediately to look for a new coach. He also said he
decided Tuesday night to fire Porter, and the decision had nothing
to do with the draft.
"We didn't have philosophical differences. He didn't want
different guys than I did," Harris said.
The Bucks were one of the league's surprise teams in Porter's first season, going 41-41 in 2003-04 to earn a playoff berth, with Redd making his first All-Star team. But the Bucks sank to 30-52 under the Milwaukee native last season, generating considerable speculation that Porter would be fired immediately.
McMillan is expected to re-sign with Seattle after leading the Sonics to a 50-win season, but Portland -- and the Pistons -- hope to speak with McMillan after his current Sonics contract expires June 30.
Saunders, still owed $5.5 million next season by Minnesota, is widely considered a top candidate to replace Brown in Detroit. Saunders has already rebuffed overtures from Portland and his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sources close to the search told ESPN.com that Memphis assistant Eric Musselman also is under consideration. Musselman could be one of the fall-back candidates if the Bucks aren't able to land Saunders.
ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.