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Juniper’s KJ the new Yahoo chief? Microsoft-Yahoo dance continues?

Juniper CEO (and former Microsoft exec) Kevin Johnson is a pundit favorite to replace outgoing Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang.

Huh? Didn’t KJ just get a new job?

Yes, KJ joined Juniper this summer and gave his first earnings call as CEO in October, but it’s not surprising that he’s an analyst favorite for the Yahoo job. First, he’s a former Microsoft exec, which seems to be a job requirement. More than half the names mentioned by analysts for potential Yahoo chief belong to present or former Microsoft players.

That is likely driven by investor hope that Microsoft will come back for a Yahoo takeover now that Yang has stepped out of the way. But Wednesday, CEO Steve Ballmer squashed that idea, saying takeover is no longer an option. He did, however, keep the flirt bubbling by saying he is “very open” to a potential search collaboration deal.

As far as Microsoft executives go, KJ would be an obvious choice since he led the software giant’s consumer online services, including Live Search and Johnson was also much involved in Microsoft’s failed attempt to buy Yahoo and he was the point man in Microsoft’s acquisition of digital marketing group aQuantive. Both acquisitions were aimed at Google’s dominance.

Interestingly, one of the other Microsoft execs listed as a potential Yahoo head in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer Tech blog is Brian McAndrews, former CEO of aQuantive and current senior vice president of the advertiser and publisher solutions group at Microsoft. The blog also lists Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft’s online audience business; and Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of local communications carrier Frontier Communications, who had been vice president of worldwide public sector at Microsoft.

Other non-Microsoft candidates mentioned include Yahoo president Sue Decker (though many analysts say she is too closely connected with Yang’s rocky tenure), Jon Miller, former head of Time Warner’s AOL, News Corp. chief operating officer Peter Chernin and former Yahoo chief operating officer Dan Rosensweig.

Meanwhile, if KJ were to bail on Juniper and take over at Yahoo, he’d be stuck with a boatload of the networking company’s low-priced stock, since last week he acquired 64,000 shares at $15.01. Johnson apparently scooped up the shares to inspire investor confidence.

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