SAN ANTONIO — Unless the Mavericks thoroughly disgrace themselves against the Spurs, we’ll probably never be able to confirm what evil lurks in the heart of Mavs owner Mark Cuban regarding Don Nelson’s coaching future in Dallas.

According to educated speculation, coming into the playoffs, the bizarre billionaire was prepared to make a powerful play (let your imagination be your guide) for Heat minority owner/president/coach Pat Riley, had his Mavs mortifyingly malfunctioned — as was almost the case against the Blazers who nearly became the first team in NBA history to overcome an 0-3 deficit.

Winning a pair of Game 7s appears to have gotten Nelson off the shadowy ledge, but an implosion in this series could radically reverse that perception. Trust me, Nelson isn’t faintly confident he has won Cuban’s bludgeon of approval and remains knotted in a discomfort zone. Offers a friend, “Don deeply senses he’s still being tested and that he can’t do enough.”

Conjecture is not an issue concerning the Cavaliers and whom Gordon Gund has identified as the principal candidates for his team’s coaching job. Those in the know pinpoint Jeff Van Gundy (already interviewed) and Paul Silas (a meeting is planned before Thursday’s lottery drawing) as the two people. “It’s their job to turn down,” says the informant, intimating Van Gundy is first choice.

Should both demur, for whatever reason, the next two choices, I’m informed, are Eddie Jordan and Scott Skiles. Silas figures to be the favored contender to fill the Hawks’ cavity if Mike Dunleavy decides against joining Fort Worth friend-of-the-family David McDavid in Atlanta for more desirable surroundings. Insight: Silas’ agent, Lonnie Cooper, brokered the sale of the Atlanta team to McDavid.

Last week I boxed myself in by hypothesizing that Van Gundy is infinitely more interested in conducting the Rockets’ orchestra should Rudy Tomjanovich get excised. Moreover, the Sixers (Larry Brown’s stutter-steppin’ again) and the Wizards (Doug Collins couldn’t resolve his players’ disrespect while Michael Jordan had his back, how’s he gonna handle them now?) could be in the hunt real soon for a head coach.

Still, should the Cavs finish first or second (LeBron James-Carmelo Anthony) in the lottery, I’d be somewhat compelled to amend that opinion. Cleveland won’t trade its pick if it’s No. 2, only if it’s No. 3 or below; Darko Milicic is unappealing since they already have a healthy Zydrunas Ilgauskas and two undeveloped centers.

Why take on an 18-year-old? At the same time, Van Gundy is not exactly known for his patience with young, undisciplined pupils, something Cleveland’s roster is saturated with.

You had to love the Maloof brothers (owner of the Kings) saying they would give VP Geoff Petrie consent to interview for the Blazers’ GM job if that’s what he wants. Meaning, “We’re convinced our situation is incomparable. Paul Allen may be richer than we are but there’s nothing out there that can tempt Petrie to leave here so let’s prove it by granting permission.”

Aside from having complete freedom and support, Petrie has other important considerations. The Loyalty Factor: Before the Maloofs purchased the franchise he was in grave danger of not being rehired by outgoing owner Jim Thomas. The Disloyalty Factor: Petrie walked on the Blazers years ago when Allen ordered him to dump coach Rick Adelman, which he refused to do, so the owner fired him on his own. Why would Petrie return to work for Allen?

The answer is, there’s nothing Petrie enjoys more than beating the Blazers.

Portland’s opening round of interviews for its GM vacancy got underway yesterday, sources divulge, with Celtics GM Chris Wallace. Allen and vice chairman Burt Kolde are leaning toward someone who has been the top guy vs. an up-and-comer. So we’re talking Wallace, John Nash, Kevin O’Connor (signed long-term extension with the Jazz last year), Magic GM John Gabriel (one year left) and Bucks GM Ernie Grunfeld.

If Bucks owner Herb Kohl refused to allow George Karl to pursue the University of North Carolina job several years ago, why would he permit his GM to audition for Portland? Maybe because the good senator is trying to sell the team and Grunfeld, who only has one year remaining, obviously has no guarantee he’ll be retained by incoming ownership.

Former Bulls GM Jerry Krause will be brought in for a consultation but is too flawed personally to have any real chance of being hired.

I’ve also learned the Magic rejected the Hawks’ request to talk to Doc Rivers, who doesn’t want to go anywhere, anyway. It doesn’t get any better than coaching Tracy McGrady. Moreover, Rivers and Gabriel are getting along famously after a serrated few years.

I must confess I’m in a quandary regarding the Hornets’ coaching state of affairs. I’ve got one reliable source telling me VP Bob Bass’ two interviews with hometown pet Tim Floyd is a con job to gain some positive press for a change. I’ve got another reliable source telling me it’s Floyd’s job to lose and there’s no way Bass and owner George Shinn intend to hire Atlanta neighbor Mike Fratello.

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