Phil Jackson might be the crown jewel in the NBA coaching market, but while the Knicks and Lakers wait for him to decide whether he wants to return to the league next season, they also are part of a large pack of teams putting a full-court press on former Minnesota coach Flip Saunders.

Although Saunders did not meet with Knicks president Isiah Thomas on Friday when he was in the area working as a TNT analyst on a Nets-Miami playoff game, several league insiders said that the two have talked extensively by telephone since then. The Lakers also have contacted Saunders, according to a published report, and Cleveland, Portland and Orlando have expressed their interest in him.

"I thought from Day One that, when the dust settled, he would be pretty close, if not on the top of the list, of the lion's share of teams that were looking," one Western Conference personnel expert said yesterday. "That's the way that's playing out."

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