Chris Wallace leader for Kings GM

Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace has taken the early lead in the Sacramento Kings' search for a new head of basketball operations, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that Wallace's interview this week with new Kings owner Vivek Ranadive went well enough that it stretched into a second day.

Yet Ranadive, according to sources, has not abandoned his interest in expanding the search to include other candidates, not even after highly regarded San Antonio Spurs president R.C. Buford publicly stated that he's not interested in the position.

ESPN.com reported earlier Friday that Ranadive, after his sit-downs with Jerry West-endorsed Wallace, will next interview longtime NBA coach and executive Mike Dunleavy for the GM job this weekend.

And, furthermore, sources said late Friday, that Ranadive hasn't abandoned hope of making a splashy Buford-type hire and has thus felt out former Indiana Pacers executive Larry Bird about his willingness to return to front-office work in Sacramento.

The widespread assumption in league circles is that Bird, if he's lured back to a full-time position in the NBA, is most likely to return to the Indiana Pacers' front office given the work he's already put into building a Pacer team that is still alive in the Eastern Conference finals against mighty Miami. But Ranadive, sources say, has let it be known that he isn't afraid to spend top dollar on a GM, although Sacramento's ability to lure someone of Buford's or Bird's stature is seen as highly unlikely after the Kings decided to hire a coach -- Golden State assistant Mike Malone -- before choosing a replacement for outgoing GM Geoff Petrie.

The sale of the Kings from the Maloof family to Ranadive's group closed Friday. The Kings then promptly announced that coach Keith Smart, as expected, would not return, having agreed to terms on a four-year deal worth in excess of $9 million for Malone to succeed Smart.

Ranadive, who was a minority owner with Golden State before taking the lead in the consortium that outlasted a Seattle group headlined by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer to purchase the Kings, has also already interviewed Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk in addition to Wallace for Petrie's job.

Sources say Wallace, whose role in Memphis has diminished over the course of the season after the transfer of ownership of the Grizzlies from Michael Heisley to Robert Pera, has received strong backing from fellow West Virginia native West. The legendary former player and executive currently serves as a Warriors consultant and has been counseling Ranadive on his early moves with the Kings.

Wallace replaced West as the Grizzlies' lead decision-maker after the 2006-07 season and ultimately won plaudits for his role in rebuilding Memphis' roster after initially absorbing league-wide scorn for the controversial trade that sent Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 1, 2008. In that deal, Wallace acquired Pau's brother, Marc Gasol, and created the salary-cap space that led to the acquisition of Zach Randolph.

Petrie had a strong run of good moves in Sacramento in the late 1990s and early 2000s in building a team that showed undeniable championship potential. But his job, like Smart's, came under increasing threat thanks to a barren run since Sacramento's last playoff berth in 2006. After eight straight trips to the postseason, culminating with a run all the way to the seventh game of the Western Conference finals in 2002, Petrie has been unable to halt a string of seven consecutive seasons in the lottery.