Stan Van Gundy

Pelicans Rumors: Williamson, Griffin, Coaches, Front Office

There hasn’t been much noise surrounding Zion Williamson since a June report suggested some of his family members want him out of New Orleans, but the 2021/22 season will be crucial for the Pelicans and their long-term relationship with the former No. 1 overall pick.

Williamson will be eligible for a rookie scale extension, and while no player has ever turned down a maximum-salary rookie scale extension, New Orleans will want to take a major step toward contention this season to reduce the risk of Zion becoming the first.

In a deep dive into the situation in New Orleans, Christian Clark of NOLA.com suggests Williamson grew frustrated back in the Pelicans back in his rookie season when they handled his return from a preseason knee injury with extreme caution, extending his recovery timeline and then having him play in short “bursts” when he returned. Williamson detested those “burst” limits, according to Clark, who says there was significant tension between the star forward and the team’ medical staff that season.

Additionally, while executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin tried to forge a bond with Williamson during his rookie season, Zion’s relationship with the head of the team’s front office had “begun to sour” by the end of the year, says Clark. The two men don’t communicate frequently now, Clark adds.

Here’s more from Clark’s report, which includes several interesting tidbits and is worth checking out in full:

  • Griffin isn’t particularly popular among a segment of Pelicans employees, who referred to him in a group chat last year as “Griff Krause” while ‘The Last Dance’ was airing, according to Clark. The moniker was a reference to former Bulls GM Jerry Krause, whom the ESPN documentary portrayed as disliked by the team’s stars and head coach.
  • Although many people in the Pelicans’ organization believed the team needed to replace head coach Alvin Gentry in 2020, some didn’t like the way the change was handled. According to Clark, Griffin blamed Gentry for the Pelicans’ poor start that season, telling one person, “I give Alvin all the answers to the test, and he still fails.”
  • Tyronn Lue was believed to be the Pelicans’ top choice when they replaced Gentry, but Lue opted to join the Clippers. When Griffin pivoted to Stan Van Gundy, some people in the organization raised concerns that the fit would be awkward, Clark writes, but the Pelicans hired him anyway. The team dismissed Van Gundy this spring after just one season.
  • While J.J. Redick‘s public criticism of the Pelicans’ front office earlier this year placed Griffin and his group under a microscope, Jrue Holiday praised the team for sending him to a contender after he quietly asked to be traded, and several prominent agents – including Mark Bartelstein – told Clark that their interactions with New Orleans’ head of basketball operations have been positive.

Southwest Notes: Mavs, Sweeney, THJ, SVG, Grizzlies, Rockets

The Mavericks are in advanced talks to hire Sean Sweeney as an assistant coach on Jason Kidd‘s new staff, according to veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein (Twitter link).

Sweeney, who has been on Dwane Casey‘s staff in Detroit since 2018, was said last month to be in talks with the Pistons on a new deal. However, as Stein points out, Sweeney worked on Kidd’s staff during his time in Brooklyn and Milwaukee. Once Kidd was hired by the Mavericks, it seems Sweeney’s focus shifted to a reunion with the veteran coach.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Tim Hardaway Jr. will make the final decision on his destination in free agency this summer, but his father would vote for him to remain in Dallas. As Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News tweets, Tim Hardaway Sr. said on the 1 Star Recruits Podcast that he thinks the Mavericks are “a very good fit for my son” and that the decision to hire Kidd was a good one.
  • Appearing on the Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, former Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy spoke more about his exit from the organization, suggesting that he was more focused on what was happening on the court, while executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin was more concerned with “the atmosphere around the team and the happiness of people.” Christian Clark of NOLA.com has the full quote from Van Gundy.
  • Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal evaluates whether the Grizzlies could – and should – make a strong play for Bradley Beal should the All-Star guard become available in a trade before his current contract ends.
  • Within his latest mailbag, Kelly Iko of The Athletic discusses the No. 2 pick, Eric Gordon‘s trade value, and several more Rockets-related topics.

Stan Van Gundy: “Zion’s No Coach Killer”

Stan Van Gundy only lasted one season with the Pelicans, but he doesn’t blame any of his players for his early departure, writes Andrew Lopez of ESPN. Commenting publicly on the situation for the first time during an appearance on the “Stupodity” podcast, Van Gundy said players are often targeted undeservedly when there’s a coaching change.

“I hate when it gets put on players that players are getting coaches fired and things like that. I think that makes players look bad and I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “Players certainly have the right to express their opinion to people and things like that but front offices and owners make decisions and they are the ones who make decisions to fire people. That should never be placed on players.

“I know this, regardless of what happened in that regard, (Zion Williamson)’s no coach killer. He’s a guy who is gonna help you win a lot of games. He plays the game the right way. One of the things I’ll miss is the opportunity to continue to coach him. He’s so unique in the way that he plays the game and the things that he can do, it really gets your mind spinning as a coach and you have a lot of possibilities in what you can do with him. That was fun to explore. I’m happy with what we did with Zion. I think we helped him. How anyone else felt about that would be up to them.”

Van Gundy was hired last year in an attempt to bring veteran leadership to a roster stocked with young talent. However, the Pelicans got off to a slow start and finished at 31-41, two games out of the final play-in spot. As the season wore on, there were reports that Williamson’s family was upset with how he was being used and was urging him to find a way out of New Orleans.

“I don’t know anything about that,” Van Gundy said. “In my mind, I liked coaching Zion. I had a good relationship with him. I had no problem. I think we elevated his platform that we gave him. We put him in different situations, had him handling the ball a lot, playing a lot of point guard. I think we did some good things with him.

“If they were unhappy, I didn’t hear about it. Zion was unhappy with us not winning more games, but Zion never expressed to me any of that. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t unhappy, it’s possible that they were unhappy with me and that’s what led to the change.”

Van Gundy also scoffed at how his departure was portrayed. In a press release announcing the move, the Pelicans framed it as a mutual decision, but Van Gundy says that’s not completely accurate. Executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin has cited “philosophical differences,” and Van Gundy admitted that he and the front office looked at coaching “totally different.”

“I would say it was joint in this sense: I think you can understand this, I don’t want to be somewhere they don’t want me. And they didn’t want me. I wasn’t at that point going to fight to try to stay there,” he said. “When I left Detroit, my owner there who I really liked Tom Gores, also said it was a mutual decision. I said yeah, ‘Tom asked me to leave so I left.’ I guess that’s mutual.”

Van Gundy defended the job he did with the Pelicans, noting that the team showed improvement on defense throughout the season, rising from 29th in defensive efficiency before the All-Star break to seventh afterward. He also endorsed assistant coach Fred Vinson as the best choice to replace him.

Van Gundy said he will miss the chance to further develop Williamson and believes he will eventually be one of the NBA’s top stars.

“Over the next five, six, seven years, this guy’s gonna have incredible growth,” Van Gundy said. Now where he really needs to make progress if he wants to win is at the defensive end. … He’s just a phenomenal talent and has great competitiveness. And you literally just cannot keep him from getting to the rim. There’s no way to play him to keep him from getting to the rim. Even when you know that’s where he’s going every time.”

Southwest Notes: Stone, Rockets Draft, Van Gundy, Grizzlies Pick

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone is being coy with how he’ll approach the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and even hinted he’d be open to trading it, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. However, Stone does seem excited about adding a cornerstone to his roster. “The goal is to find a star player,” he said. “When you bring in young players especially, you’re really looking for star potential. I wouldn’t use the word ‘expect.’ I don’t want to put that pressure on a player. I do think we’re likely to get somebody really, really talented if we pick the pick.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Unless the Pistons do something surprising, Cade Cunningham will be off the board when the Rockets make their first of three first-round picks. Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs are the top candidates to be the No. 2 pick and Evan Young of the Houston Chronicle breaks down those players.
  • Stan Van Gundy was one-and-done as the Pelicans‘ head coach, while Tom Thibodeau was named Coach of the Year in his first season with the Knicks. The fact that the Knicks’ top players bought in to Thibodeau’s style and schemes while the Pelicans’ young core didn’t do the same with their veteran coach led to Van Gundy’s demise, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes. The Knicks also had more experienced players on their roster than the Pelicans, another reason why Van Gundy failed and Thibodeau thrived.
  • Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu and Oregon wing Chris Duarte are among the players the Grizzlies could target with the No. 17 overall pick, Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commercial Appeal writes. Barnes takes a look at five players who might be a fit with the current roster.

Southeast Notes: Van Gundy, Ball, Battier, Heat Offseason, Wizards

Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel explains makes a case for why Stan Van Gundy , who was fired after a single year on the job with the Pelicans, should be in the running for the Magic’s head coach job. Orlando is one of seven teams this summer with an open head coach position, and though they’ve expressed a desire to cast a wide net in their search, Parry writes that the Magic, given their defensive personnel, could be primed for a reunion with the defensive-minded coach.

We have more from around the Southeast Division:

  • Winning Rookie of the Year has only left Hornets‘ guard LaMelo Ball hungrier coming into next season, writes The Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan Alexander. The young guard missed 21 games with a fractured wrist in the beginning of the season and struggled at times upon returning, but put together a very encouraging rookie year. “Definitely next season I want to come in with this little boost and pretty much looking forward to next season now,” Ball said. “That’s what we’re all working out for. That’s what we’re all here for. Pretty much just trying to get better every day.”
  • Former Heat forward Shane Battier has left his job as the head of the team’s player development and analytics department, but plans to continue to consult for president Pat Riley and the Heat, reports Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson. The decision was entirely up to Battier, who had previously been considered a candidate for promotion should Riley retire. That now that possibility seems a little less likely, Jackson writes.
  • Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald examines whether it makes more sense for the Heat to operate as an above-the-cap team or a cap room team, concluding that operating over the cap likely makes more sense as it would allow the team to re-sign players like Victor Oladipo and Trevor Ariza with Bird Rights, and to decline the options for Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala and bring them back on new, cheaper deals.
  • The Wizards need to be better, and that starts with the front office, writes Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post. With the Wizards choosing to not renew Scott Brooks‘ contract, they are also grappling with the fact that turning around the franchise is going to come down to more than a new coaching hire. “The days of one coach being the solution to every single problem a team has are over,” said GM Tommy Sheppard.

Pelicans Notes: Van Gundy, Ingram, Ball, Hart, Adams

There were signs that Stan Van Gundy might not return for another season as Pelicans head coach well before the news became official Wednesday, according to Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and William Guillory of The Athletic. Earlier today, we shared their insights into Zion Williamson‘s future in New Orleans, and they have information on the coaching situation as well.

Van Gundy expressed his frustrations about the team’s performance to an assistant coach during a late-season bus trip, and someone relayed those comments to executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin with a warning that Van Gundy may not want to go through another season. Additionally, a meeting between Van Gundy and Griffin prior to the last weekend of the season turned out poorly, according to sources.

Sources also tell the authors that Brandon Ingram, who earned an All-Star nod under previous coach Alvin Gentry, didn’t like Van Gundy’s coaching methods. Ingram frequently talked about the way he and Williamson were used when they were on the court together, saying they rarely created better shot opportunities for each other.

There’s more from New Orleans:

  • The Pelicans will face important decisions this summer on two players who were at the heart of the Anthony Davis trade, Charania, Vardon and Guillory add in the same story. Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart will both be restricted free agents and will be seeking substantial raises. Hart has become a vocal leader on a team without a strong veteran presence, and Williamson and Ingram have spoken out in favor of bringing both players back.
  • The puzzling decisions to trade for Steven Adams and then give him a two-year extension look worse than ever, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic. New Orleans gave up a first-round pick in the deal for the veteran center, who clogs the lane and takes away room for Williamson to operate. Hollinger also questions the choice to take Eric Bledsoe‘s sizable contract from the Bucks instead of George Hill in the Jrue Holiday trade.
  • The latest coaching change comes at a crucial time for the franchise, Hollinger adds. The Pelicans’ lease in New Orleans expires in 2024, so there’s a need to put a competitive team on the floor as soon as possible to ease any fears of relocation. He adds that owner Gayle Benson is very connected to the city and isn’t currently looking to sell, but the team continues to lose money while missing the playoffs.

Zion Williamson’s Family Reportedly Wants Him Out Of New Orleans

The coaching change in New Orleans is only a small part of the situation facing the Pelicans, according to Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and William Guillory of The Athletic. Sources tell the authors that some members of Zion Williamson‘s family are extremely critical of the organization and want to see him on another team.

Wednesday’s decision to part ways with head coach Stan Van Gundy after just one season was part of the effort to make Williamson happier. Charania, Vardon and Guillory cite a “growing unease” between Van Gundy and his players, as well as between the coach and the front office.

The Pelicans have missed the playoffs in each of Williamson’s first two NBA seasons, and numerous sources spoke about family members who would like to see him in a better situation. Williamson seemed to exhibit his own frustration at an end-of-season press conference.

“It’s disappointing. I’d be lying to you if I said anything else,” he said. “It’s very disappointing. But the best thing we can do is regroup, come together as a team, come together as coaches this offseason, talk and do what we need to do to be better next year. It’s not much to it, we just gotta be better.”

Even if Williamson does want to go elsewhere, getting there won’t be easy. He will be under team control for the next three seasons and will almost certainly be offered a maximum-salary rookie scale extension next summer. Even if he turns that down and opts for restricted free agency, the Pelicans will be able to match any offer he receives.

Accepting a qualifying offer could get him to unrestricted free agency after his fifth season, but that’d be an unprecedented move for a player of Williamson’s caliber.

The team has already made changes to accommodate Zion, the authors add, reworking its support staff during the offseason. Even so, family members have remained critical of the organization, with Van Gundy as a frequent target. The family saw Van Gundy as too “rigid and demanding” and believed the Pelicans didn’t treat Williamson like a typical NBA star.

Williamson was also reportedly upset with a March trade that sent J.J. Redick to the Mavericks. Citing family concerns, Redick had asked to either be traded before the season or stay with the team until the season was done. Williamson had become close with Redick, who blasted the organization on his way out. His comments were believed to have affected Zion’s view of the team.

Pelicans Notes: Van Gundy, Griffin, Williamson, Weatherspoon, Vinson, Lottery

Pelicans officials determined that Stan Van Gundy’s style was not a match for the team’s young core and that contributed to the decision to fire the veteran head coach after just one season, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

Executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin wanted Van Gundy to give more playing time to first-round picks Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kira Lewis, and Jaxson Hayes, but Van Gundy was more comfortable with veterans such as Eric Bledsoe, Fischer continues.

Parting ways with Van Gundy was also a means of currying favor with Zion Williamson, Fischer adds. Griffin had urged Van Gundy to make Williamson more of a lead ball-handler in the team’s offensive scheme.

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • While assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon has been rumored to be a potential replacement for Van Gundy, Griffin downplayed that possibility, Will Guillory of The Athletic tweets. Griffin said her candidacy is “premature” and that people may have read too much into her being named the team’s Summer League coach, Guillory adds.
  • On the other hand, assistant Fred Vinson will get serious consideration for a promotion, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. Vinson has been with the organization since 2010.
  • The Pelicans hit the jackpot when they won the 2019 lottery and selected Williamson. They’re hoping lightning strikes twice, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes.  The Pelicans enter next Tuesday’s drawing with a 4.5% chance of getting the top pick and a 20.3% chance of moving into the top four.
  • Getting rid of Van Gundy so quickly isn’t a good look for Griffin, Jeff Duncan of The Athletic writes. Next season will be pivotal for the franchise and they need to hit a home run with their next coaching hire to help convince Williamson to sign a long-term extension next summer. Zion didn’t demand Van Gundy’s ouster, Scott Kushner of the Times Picayune reports, but New Orleans’ franchise player has often expressed dissatisfaction and frustration with the team’s inability to be a consistent winner. Making a coaching change now is a way of excising the possibility of Williamson becoming discontented with the franchise.

Pelicans Part Ways With Stan Van Gundy

11:08am: The Pelicans have officially announced Van Gundy’s exit, stating in a press release that the two sides mutually agreed to part ways.

“On behalf of Mrs. Gayle Benson and the Pelicans organization, I would like to thank Stan for the integrity and professionalism that he demonstrated during his time in New Orleans, as well as the commitment and work ethic he brought to our team,” Griffin said in a statement. “This was a difficult decision as I have tremendous respect for Stan both personally and professionally, but we agreed it is in the best interest of our team to move forward in a different direction. We wish Stan, Kim and their family all the best in the future.”


9:57am: Stan Van Gundy will not return to the Pelicans for the 2021/22 season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez of ESPN, who report (via Twitter) that Van Gundy is out after just one year as New Orleans’ head coach.

Van Gundy and Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin have met regularly since the end of the regular season to discuss the team’s future, and a divorce between the team and its coach began to feel like an inevitable outcome around the organization, tweets Wojnarowski.

Van Gundy, who previously coached the Heat, Magic, and Pistons, spent a couple years as an NBA analyst from 2018-20 before returning to the head coaching ranks in 2020, when he was hired by the Pelicans. He had a disappointing season in New Orleans, however — a team that entered the year with playoff aspirations finished with a 31-41 (.431) record, missing the play-in tournament.

Replacing Alvin Gentry on the Pelicans’ sidelines, Van Gundy emphasized improving the team’s defense, but failed to do so, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. New Orleans ranked 23rd in points allowed per 100 possessions, two spots worse than in 2019/20. The Pels also had trouble closing out games, losing 14 times when they held a double-digit lead.

Clark writes that Van Gundy struggled to connect with many of the Pelicans’ young players, who didn’t adapt well to the drastic shift from Gentry’s coaching style to Van Gundy’s. Sources tell NOLA.com that Van Gundy’s relationship with star forward Brandon Ingram was “strained” for much of the season.

Van Gundy joins Nate Bjorkgren, formerly of the Pacers, as the head coaches who were let go this spring after just one year on the job.

The fifth team to launch a head coaching search since the regular season ended, the Pelicans are expected to look both inside and outside of the organization as they seek Van Gundy’s replacement.

Several reporters – including Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, Will Guillory of The Athletic, and Marc Stein of The New York Times (all Twitter links) – say that current Pelicans assistant Teresa Weatherspoon is a strong contender for the position, while O’Connor also identifies Fred Vinson as a candidate.

As for external candidates, Wojnarowski names Bucks assistant Charles Lee, Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, and Nets assistants Jacque Vaughn and Ime Udoka as possibilities, noting that the Pelicans considered some of those coaches a year ago before hiring Van Gundy.

Van Gundy, meanwhile, could receive some consideration from the other four teams with head coaching openings, but may prefer to step away again after a trying season. A return to broadcasting is one possibility for the veteran coach.

Pelicans Notes: Hernangomez, Van Gundy, 3-Point Shooting

Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin would like to re-sign reserve center and unrestricted free agent Willy Hernangomez after the Summer Olympics, Christian Clark of NOLA.com reports. Hernangomez is a member of the Spanish national team.

“Willy is going to play meaningful basketball games,” Griffin said. “He’s going to go there, and even though we can’t sign him officially necessarily before he leaves for Spain, he’s going to go there identifying himself as a Pelican, and that’s important for us.”

Hernangomez started nine of New Orleans’ final 10 games and averaged 12.3 PPG and 10.4 RPG.

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • There was tension at times between coach Stan Van Gundy and his players during the season, Scott Kushner of NOLA.com reports. However, Van Gundy was thrust into the role of ‘bad guy’ who held players accountable, since the team’s young stars didn’t do that. It’s crucial that accountability shifts from Van Gundy to Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram in order for the defense and late-game execution to improve, Kushner adds.
  • The team sank to the bottom five in the league in 3-point shooting this season and Griffin said he’ll upgrade the roster in that area, Clark writes in a separate story. With extra first-round picks at his disposal, Griffin has the assets to trade for a perimeter threat or two. He could even deal this year’s lottery pick for proven talent, Clark adds. “We’re in a situation where there is a world of optionality to us,” Griffin said. “The pick assets we have give us incredible flexibility.”
  • Why could Tuesday turn out to be a pivotal day for the Pelicans organization? Get the details here.