Sources: Carlisle is front-runner for Mavs head coaching gig

Rick Carlisle wasn't just the first candidate to interview for the Dallas Mavericks' four-day-old coaching vacancy.

Carlisle has quickly established himself as the likely successor to Avery Johnson after being flown to Dallas for a second interview, according to NBA coaching sources.

"Things are going in a positive direction, but it's not going to be a quick deal," Donnie Nelson, the team's president of basketball operations, said Sunday, according to The Associated Press. "We've just got to be patient. We're both continuing to get information and looking forward to further dialogue."

Sources told ESPN.com that Carlisle met with Nelson on Thursday in Indianapolis and then traveled to Texas on Friday to meet directly with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. As part of Friday's agenda, sources said, Carlisle also had an introductory meeting with Mavs franchise forward Dirk Nowitzki.

"We've had an extremely productive meeting with Rick," Nelson said Saturday. "He's got a wealth of basketball knowledge. We're very impressed with him, but the process is ongoing."

Multiple sources close to the process have described Carlisle as the Mavs' clear-cut No. 1 candidate, indicating that contract negotiations are already under way. It's also believed that Carlisle intends to bring two recent NBA head coaches to Dallas as assistants on his staff -- Dwane Casey and Terry Stotts -- but one team source insisted: "Nothing is done with anyone."

"I've had two great visits with Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson over the last couple of days," Carlisle told the Dallas Morning News. "This obviously is an impressive organization."

Cuban could not immediately be reached for comment.

ESPN.com reported Thursday that Nelson was Cuban's first choice to replace Johnson, but club sources say Nelson does not want to leave his personnel post and Cuban will not try to force Nelson to reconsider. In an interview Thursday with ESPN Radio's Dallas affiliate [KESN 103.3 FM], Nelson did not dispute the idea that the job would already be his if he wanted it but also insisted, "I think there's better candidates out there."

But Carlisle is the only one of five candidates on the Mavericks' A-list who is definitely available. And it appears Cuban is not inclined to wait to see if head coach Mike D'Antoni can extricate himself from Phoenix as expected or if Detroit elects to part company with Flip Saunders.

The only other name currently on Cuban's radar is Jeff Van Gundy, who, like Carlisle, has been working as an ESPN analyst this season. But Van Gundy insisted again Friday that he's "not interested in coaching anywhere [next season] due to family reasons." Van Gundy added that Dallas has not contacted him, although it is well known Cuban is a Van Gundy fan and vice versa.

If Carlisle does strike a deal with Cuban, questions will inevitably be raised about his coaching style and demeanor, which critics are bound to liken to the conservative, demanding Johnson. But Carlisle, 48, would also appear to offer the best blend of offensive and defensive pedigree after posting a record of 281-211 (.571) in stints at Detroit and Indiana. Mavericks management -- and Nowitzki -- have described that as a priority in recent days.

After serving as an offensive coordinator of sorts for Larry Bird with the Indiana Pacers during Bird's strong three-season stint as Pacers coach from 1997-98 through 1999-2000 -- which included a trip to the 2000 NBA Finals -- Carlisle won NBA Coach of the Year honors in his first season in Detroit in 2001-02. He posted consecutive 50-32 records before the Pistons replaced him with Larry Brown. Carlisle moved to the Pacers and went 61-21 in his first season before losing in the conference finals to Brown during Detroit's 2004 championship run. He then guided the Pacers to two more playoff bids in spite of seemingly constant off-court turmoil and injury which followed Indiana's infamous brawl in Detroit in November 2004.

Carlisle has also interviewed with the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks. The meeting with the Knicks and new team president Donnie Walsh -- Carlisle's former Indiana boss -- happened this week as well, according to a Friday report by the New York Post's Peter Vecsey. In Saturday's editions, Vecsey reported that Carlisle has already agreed to terms with the Mavericks, which Dallas disputes.

Ex-Knicks guard Mark Jackson, also an ESPN analyst, remains the consensus favorite to land the Knicks' job. Jackson has likewise interviewed with Chicago, but Johnson is expected to be summoned for interviews by both the Knicks and Bulls. ESPN.com also reported Friday that Chicago is the most likely landing spot for D'Antoni if he and the Suns do part ways.

Back in Dallas, this is the first time Cuban -- for all of his perceived volatility -- has fired a coach and the first time he's considering external candidates.

Cuban inherited Don Nelson as a coach when he assumed ownership control of the Mavs in January 2000 and ultimately gave Nelson two contract extensions after they hit it off in those first few months together. Cuban then targeted Johnson as Nelson's replacement when Johnson was still a player and assistant coach, repeatedly observing Johnson's ability to lead and motivate from his daily seat in close proximity to the Dallas bench. Don Nelson, furthermore, asked out more than he was pushed out in March 2005.

Yet it looks as though Cuban is prepared to move quicker than anyone expected, even though giving such a big job to someone he knows well -- as he generally likes to do in his businesses -- would only be possible this time if Donnie Nelson changed his mind and asked for his clipboard back.

Although he was once a hot-shot coaching prospect before his full-time move to the front office when Johnson took over as head coach, Nelson insists that's not an option.

"My job is to get the best guy that we can get out there," Donnie Nelson said in his radio interview. "I'm on the list. I'm just the last guy and hopefully it doesn't get to that. ... I'm saying we'd have to get through a very, very long list in order for [Donnie Nelson to coach the team] and don't look for it to happen."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.