The 76ers have begun their search for a coach to replace Doug Collins, but there could be a few obstacles.

One issue facing the Sixers is that some of the candidates who have been identified are still involved in the playoffs. Indiana assistant Brian Shaw, for instance, is also a candidate for the Brooklyn Nets job.

The Nets are looking to replace interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who was fired after Brooklyn dropped Game 7 of its first-round series to the Chicago Bulls.

Indiana general manager Donnie Walsh told the New York Daily News that Shaw, who has never been a head coach, will be permitted to interview for coaching jobs when the Pacers' season ends. Indiana leads the New York Knicks, one game to none, in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

According to a source with knowledge of the discussions, the Sixers are close to setting up an interview with Golden State assistant Mike Malone, another candidate the Sixers regard highly. Like Shaw, though, Malone is still involved in the playoffs. The sixth seed in the Western Conference, Golden State upset third-seeded Denver in the first round, advancing to a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. Game 1 was Monday night.

Malone, son of former Toronto coach Brendan Malone, has been an assistant for the last 12 seasons with New York, Cleveland, and New Orleans. He is the highest-paid assistant in the league, a distinction he also held in New York. He is considered to be a top defensive strategist.

This season, his second with Golden State, the Warriors showed a marked improvement in opponents' field-goal percentage. They were ranked 20th in the NBA last season at 45.3 percent. This season, they were ranked fourth at 43.9 percent.

"He is a guy that has had his name come up as the top guy pretty regularly now," said a Southeast Division executive who asked not to be named. "The trend now is that if you have a coach who is good at the defensive end, that's a plus. A lot of these situations where there are openings, you don't have a marquee guy who can fill it up. You need a guy that will be able to devise schemes that produce stops."

The Sixers are one of six NBA teams with vacancies. Also, it is almost certain that Atlanta coach Larry Drew will be fired by general manager Danny Ferry, even though the Hawks have made the playoffs in all three of his seasons at the helm.

A source told The Inquirer last week that Drew would be interested in the Sixers job.