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Originally published Friday, April 29, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Sonics

Notebook: Cavaliers' James eyes McMillan for coach

Sonics coach Nate McMillan, whose contract expires at the end of season, has been linked with the coaching vacancies in New York, Orlando...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sonics coach Nate McMillan, whose contract expires at the end of season, has been linked with the coaching vacancies in New York, Orlando and Minnesota.

So far, he trails Phil Jackson and Flip Saunders among the most desirable coaching candidates. However, there's one person who has McMillan at the top of his list.

According to multiple sources, Cavaliers All-Star LeBron James wants to play for McMillan next season in Cleveland.

The Sonics expressed a desire two weeks ago to re-sign their coach. However, McMillan's agent, Lonnie Cooper, told the team that they want to assess the situation after the playoffs and possibly begin negotiations at that point.

With James — who is poised to become the NBA's next megastar — pushing for McMillan and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert reportedly willing to pay as much as $10 million a year, the cash-strapped Sonics might be hard-pressed to retain their coach.

Sonics CEO Wally Walker said the team's financial woes would have no impact on its contract talks with McMillan, but it's unlikely that the Sonics, who reported losses of $17 million this season, could win a bidding war with Cleveland.

McMillan, 40, is in the final year of a four-year, $10.8 million deal. He would likely begin contract talks at $4 million a year, but with Cleveland and New York in the mix, his price could soar as high as $6 million.

Leaving Seattle, where he has spent his entire NBA career, would be difficult, but McMillan could surround himself with familiar faces in Cleveland.

He played three seasons with Cavs guard Eric Snow, and in the past 2 ½ years McMillan has developed a close relationship with Ray Allen, who, as a free agent after the season, will attract interest from Cleveland.

At yesterday's practice, McMillan declined to comment on his job status.

Still, Rashard Lewis issued a mild ultimatum to the Sonics' front office after discovering the league-wide interest in McMillan.

"I'd love for Nate to stay here because I think he's a big part of my role and me succeeding today," he said. "If he's not here, then I'm going to have to look at where I'm going to be in the future."

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Lewis signed a seven-year, incentive-laden deal in 2002 that guaranteed him $65 million, but he has the option of voiding the final two years and becoming a free agent after the 2006-07 season.

"Nate is the one that gave me an opportunity to be an All-Star," Lewis said. "He's the one that put the ball in my hands, for this to be my team. He's the one that's telling the guys to give me the ball and pretty much making everybody buy into their roles, for me and Ray to be the go-to guys.

"If another coach comes in, then everything can change. He could change the whole thing around. I could get traded out of here and anything can happen. Right now, my coach is Nate McMillan. If he's not here, I have to most definitely be here because of my contract. But I'd look at my options once I become a free agent."

Like James, Lewis entered the NBA directly out of high school and under McMillan's tutelage matured into an All-Star in his seventh season.

"I don't know if LeBron has ever met coach Nate before, and he'd be a good coach for him," Lewis said. "But right now, he's my coach and if I have anything to say about it, I'm keeping him."

Veteran attitude

The Sonics have five players — Luke Ridnour, Reggie Evans, Danny Fortson, Nick Collison and Damien Wilkins — who made their playoff debuts in the first-round series against Sacramento, but they have yet to appear in awe of their new surroundings.

"It's just a regular game," Evans said. "We just go out there and hoop. I'm the same Reggie. I don't change nothing just because it's the playoffs. I've played against that team four times during the season. Just another game.

"I'm not looking at it in a disrespectful way. I still respect the game, but during the regular season, I played as if I'm in the playoffs. This ain't nothing new as far as what people are seeing from me."

In two games, Evans has increased his rebounding average from 9.3 to 11.5.

The playoff rookies collectively are averaging 20.5 points and 21.5 rebounds after two games. They converted 10 of 24 shots in Game 2 after sinking just 5 of 24 in Game 1.

Notes

• Lewis (left knee tendinitis) skipped yesterday's practice but is expected to start today. His minutes will not be restricted due to his nagging injury.

• The medical staff cleared reserve F Vladimir Radmanovic (stress fracture right fibula) to play as much as McMillan requires tonight. In the two games Radmanovic has played since being activated last week, trainers closely monitored his minutes.

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