Stan Van Gundy became the second NBA coach to be fired after one season.
On Wednesday, reports emerged that the Pelicans were saying goodbye to the veteran coach after he posted a 31-41 record during his only season in charge of New Orleans.
The Pelicans, considered a potential playoff team in the Western Conference, finished tied for 11th in the West. They were two games away from the 10th seed, which would have earned them entry to the inaugural NBA tournament, but they couldn’t play well enough to get in.
New Orleans struggled heavily on the defensive side of the ball. They were expected to advance in that area with Van Gundy, but they finished 23rd in the league in defensive rating with a mark of 113.3 while allowing the sixth-most points per game in the NBA (115.1). They also allowed opponents to shoot 38 percent from 3-point range, which is good for the sixth-highest percentage in the entire league.
But defensive struggles aren’t the only reason the Pelicans decided to leave Van Gundy. They were just one piece of the puzzle, as Van Gundy didn’t fit as well as the Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin expected him to.
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Why the Pelicans fired Stan Van Gundy
Mainly, the reason Van Gundy didn’t work out in New Orleans was his relationship with the players. In late May, reports emerged that Van Gundy was “not vibrating” with the young Pelicans players.
“In New Orleans, the players are not vibrating with the coach,” The Athletic’s Sam Amick said in KHTK Sacramento Sports. “There are problems there.”
And as detailed Scott Kushner of The Times-PicayuneWhile the problems the Pelicans faced were “typical of a new coach on a disappointing team,” the Pelicans players had trouble adjusting to Van Gundy’s “gruff” style. And that generated the “tensions” that arose between the coaching staff and the players.
Van Gundy is not Alvin Gentry.
The former Pelicans coach who prioritized player freedom, offense and rest was a 180-degree difference from the style that Van Gundy arrived with. And those differences are in large part why Van Gundy was a logical choice to replace Gentry last offseason.
But it was not a choice made without obvious risks. And this was clearly one of them. If things went wrong, how would these young Pelicans react to a gruff, professional coach who publicly demands accountability?
While it didn’t immediately appear that Van Gundy’s job was in jeopardy, Griffin spoke of taking a look at the front office, coaching staff and players during the offseason to make sure the Pelicans found a “winning temper.”
“We were a very young and developing basketball team. While we have incredibly talented players, we still don’t have the winning mettle,” Griffin said after the season. ESPN.
“We know to some extent. We know that this is a process and that it takes time. But we also have to look at ourselves, at management, at the coaches, at the players. Is what we are doing working? To create a winning group? That will be our focus. “
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Apparently, that introspective look revealed that amid Van Gundy’s tensions with the young Pelicans players, he was not the right candidate for the team. And so the two sides parted ways after being “involved in talks for weeks” about a split.
As a result, Van Gundy becomes the second coach to be fired this offseason after just one season with one team, joining Indiana’s Nate Bjorkgren as the other. That’s just the fifth time an NBA coach has been fired after a season in the past 30 years.
Now, the Pelicans will begin their second coach search in the past calendar year. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the team will “circle back” to some candidates they interviewed a year ago, including assistants Jacque Vaughn and Ime Udoka (Brooklyn), Charles Lee (Milwaukee) and Jason Kidd (Lakers).
Further, Mark Stein of the New York Times reports that Pelicans assistant Teresa Weatherspoon is “expected to emerge” as a candidate to replace Van Gundy.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.