Sources: Hornets eye Pritchard as GM

LAS VEGAS -- The New Orleans Hornets have identified a handful of potential candidates for their front-office vacancy created this week by the ouster of Jeff Bower.

According to sources with knowledge of New Orleans' thinking, former Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard has emerged as the Hornets' top target early on in the process.

Other candidates on the Hornets' short list, sources said, are Tom Penn (Pritchard's former top aide in Portland), San Antonio Spurs vice president of basketball operations Dell Demps and former Charlotte Hornets star Rex Chapman (currently an executive with the Denver Nuggets).

The Hornets requested and received permission Thursday from San Antonio to interview Demps, allowing team president Hugh Weber and Demps to meet at the NBA's annual summer league in Las Vegas. New Orleans would also need to request permission from Denver to interview Chapman.

Sources said that longtime Phoenix Suns executive David Griffin might also be considered.

NBA.com reported earlier Thursday that Hornets president Hugh Weber met with Warren LeGarie, Pritchard's agent, to discuss the job.

Although Penn, who recently joined ESPN as a salary-cap analyst, is considered a candidate to replace Bower, he is considered a candidate to replace Bower, but he could also wind up with the Hornets as an aide to Pritchard again in New Orleans if the Hornets can strike a deal with Penn's Portland boss.

One source told ESPN.com that the strong connection Pritchard has with new Hornets coach and former Blazers assistant Monty Williams has helped put him at the forefront of New Orleans' thinking.

It remains to be seen how much interest Pritchard has in the position after his successful run in Portland, amidst concerns about the Hornets''long-term outlook and uncertain ownership situation.

Penn and Demps are also among the candidates in Phoenix, along with former Sacramento Kings executive Jason Levien, to work in the new front-office structure Suns owner Robert Sarver is planning, which will be headed by longtime player agent Lon Babby.

Sources said that Bower's abrupt departure earlier this week, which was announced while he was in Las Vegas with the Hornets' summer-league team, was triggered largely by Bower's increasingly strained relationship with Paul. The relationship between the former GM and the face of the franchise began to deteriorate in earnest with the firing of coach Byron Scott just nine games into the season.

Bower took over as interim coach and posted a more-than-respectable record of 34-39 given New Orleans' numerous injury woes, but Paul and Scott were and remain close.

Although there have been numerous reports linking Bower's demise to a purported willingness to trade Paul -- which Bower strongly disputes -- sources close to the situation say that Hornets made the change with other motivations.

There is a belief within team management that replacing Bower with a marquee front-office name like Pritchard will serve as a clear signal to Paul that the team is intent on keeping the All-Star point guard and rebuilding around him. The Hornets are feeling an increasing sense of urgency to keep Paul happy because he has an option in his contract to become a free agent after the 2011-12 season.

Doubts about Paul's future in New Orleans have been rising since an interview with ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard last month in which Paul publicly acknowledged for the first time that he would be open to a trade if he feels as though New Orleans is no longer committed to spending what it takes to compete with the league's elite.

Those sentiments have only encouraged rival teams to keep pressing about trading Paul. But New Orleans, as it has for months, continues to rebuff every trade call regarding Paul, despite the ongoing uncertainty about the proposed ownership transfer from longtime Hornets owner George Shinn to minority partner Gary Chouest.

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.