Stan Van Gundy became the second NBA coach to be fired after one season.
On Wednesday, reports emerged that the Pelicans were parting with the veteran coach after he posted a 31-41 record during his lone season in charge of New Orleans.
The Pelicans, considered to be a potential playoff team in the Western Conference, finished tied for 11th place in the West. They were two games back from the 10th seed, which would have gained them entry into the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament, but they couldn’t play well enough to get in.
New Orleans largely struggled on the defensive side of the ball. They were expected to make strides in that area under 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, good for the sixth-highest percentage league-wide.
But the defense struggles aren’t the only reason that the Pelicans decided to move on from Van Gundy. They were just one piece of the puzzle, as Van Gundy didn’t fit in as well as Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin had hoped he would.
Why the Pelicans fired Stan Van Gundy
Mainly, the reason that 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 vibing” with the young Pelicans players.
“In New Orleans, the players are not vibing with the coach,” said Sam Amick of The Athletic on KHTK Sports Sacramento. “There’s issues there.”
And as detailed by Scott Kushner of The Times-Picayune, while the issues the Pelicans faced were “typical of a new coach on a disappointing team,” Pelicans players struggled with the adjustment to Van Gundy’s “gruff” style. And that led to the “tensions” that emerged between the coaching staff and the players.
Van Gundy isn’t Alvin Gentry.
The former Pelicans coach who prioritized player freedom, offense and rest was a 180-degree difference from the style Van Gundy arrived with. And those differences are largely why Van Gundy was a logical choice to replace Gentry last offseason.
But it wasn’t a pick made without obvious risks. And this was clearly one of them. If things went sideways, how would these young Pelicans react to a gruff, business-like coach who publicly demands accountability?
While it didn’t appear immediately like Van Gundy’s job was in danger, Griffin spoke of taking a deep look into the front office, coaching staff and players during the offseason to ensure that the Pelicans would find a “winning mettle.”
“We were a very young, developing basketball team. While we have players with incredible talent, we don’t have the winning mettle yet,” Griffin said after the season, per ESPN.
“We know that to some degree. We know this is a process and it takes time. But we also have to take a look at ourselves, front office, coaching, players. Is what we are doing working? Are we doing enough for the group to create winning? That’s what our focus is going to be.”
Apparently, that introspective look revealed that amid Van Gundy’s tensions with the young Pelicans players, he was not the right fit for the team. And so, the two sides parted ways after being “engaged 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 a team, joining Indiana’s Nate Bjorkgren as the other. That marks only the fifth occasion that an NBA coach has been dismissed after one season over the last 30 years.
Now, the Pelicans will begin their second coaching search in the last 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).
Additionally, Mark Stein of the New York Times is reporting that Pelicans assistant Teresa Weatherspoon is “expected to emerge” as a candidate to replace Van Gundy.