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Five potential assistant coaching hires that make sense for the New Orleans Pelicans

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Who should David Griffin add behind Stan Van Gundy?

2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup - USAB Shootaround Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The focus now shifts to filling out the rest of the coaching staff with Stan Van Gundy awarded the top spot by the New Orleans Pelicans earlier this week.

It’s difficult to imagine Alvin Gentry’s two lead assistants, Chris Finch (feel he’ll wind up with the Raptors, replacing the departed Nate Bjorkman) and Jeff Bzdelik, will be retained, but do not expect for the whole staff to be replaced in New Orleans. For instance, Fred Vinson and Joe Boylan were both mentioned by name for their excellent work and results with the roster during David Griffin’s Zoom conference pertaining to Gentry’s dismissal.

There exist several favorites to round out Van Gundy’s bench for the upcoming season. Some have already been mentioned as potential candidates for the job; the others make for strong educated guesses.

Will Weaver

Weaver should be considered one of the favorites. Although he was in the running for the head coaching job, the feeling is that he may also have the inside track for an assistant position with the Pelicans.

Sydney Kings Press Conference Photo by Matt King/Getty Images

The biggest stumbling block to that plan is the Thunder. Reportedly, Sam Presti also likes Weaver and could name him the next head coach in Oklahoma City. If the Thunder elect to go with someone else, however, Weaver should be motivated to come to New Orleans as it represents a nice step up the coaching ladder over a return to the Sydney Kings.

The connection to Trajan Langdon has been well documented; however, many probably don’t realize that Weaver also makes for an excellent coaching fit with the Pelicans. Van Gundy is a brilliant basketball mind, but his forte is defense. Weaver could bring necessary balance by adding modern flair and novel concepts on the offensive end.

Over the past two years, Weaver’s teams have operated at lightning paces. The Sydney Kings finished second in pace last season in the NBL, and the Long Island Nets led the G League in pace two seasons ago.

Weaver also has experience utilizing a burly but mobile and skilled power forward. Despite standing only 6’4 and weighing 240 pounds, Jae’sean Tate consistently turned defensive rebounds into fast breaks on the Kings.

Despite possibly being considered undersized, he possessed this rare ability to fight for defensive rebounds and then push the ball up the court in transition. Him being a big and mobile player that can push it down the court and finish in traffic allowed him to hit 71% on his shots in transition, according to Synergy Sports.

This should set off alarm bells in your head. Zion Williamson needs to be coached to crash the defensive glass on many more possessions, but he should still have the freedom to push the pace at his leisure.

It is important to note that Weaver wasn’t only renowned for his work at creating faster tempo while in Sydney however.

While the Kings were very good in transition, Weaver’s work as an offensive coach undoubtedly becomes more interesting when you start to look at his work in half-court sets. A lot of that has to do with basic creativity as he’s spent the last two years implementing different plays that you really don’t see from many other coaches.

Weaver is a big proponent of the pick-and-roll — Van Gundy’s bread and butter, but he employs more unconventional sets in nature. Weaver has invoked his players to set them more from the sidelines than at the top of the key and he calls for backcourt players to free up fours and fives.

It shouldn’t be hard to envision just how meaningful this could be on the Pelicans. They have good size in Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the guard spots, and freeing up Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram on the move sounds like a smart way of producing a lot of havoc for opposing defenses.

Ime Udoka

Udoka deserves a head coaching gig somewhere, but New Orleans could get fortunate and land his services as an assistant.

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

After spending seven years next to Gregg Popovich, Udoka left the Spurs for the lead assistant spot next to Brett Brown on the 76ers. However, it appears that stint will be limited to one year as Doc Rivers now sits at the helm and Dave Joerger was recently added to Philadelphia’s bench, too. Thus, it wasn’t a surprise to read Udoka’s been tied to the Pelicans after their hire of Van Gundy.

Udoka has been considered for head coaching positions around the league previously, and David Grubb took an in-depth look at him last month, positing the theory that he represents the whole package.

Udoka checks all of the boxes. He has the player pedigree, comes from a culture of success, and has proven to be a leader and a student of his craft. He’d bring authority and accountability to the locker room, and he’s shown that he can make young players and veterans alike better.

While there are many highlights on Udoka’s resume, the time spent in San Antonio where he truly gained an understanding of how to build a successful culture is most tantalizing from New Orleans’ perspective.

One of the major needs for the New Orleans Pelicans is strengthening the foundation laid last season, to truly become a team capable of not bowing down. That comes through defining the culture of the franchise, and building its identity. Udoka embraced the values of the Spurs’ organization.

“So, to their credit, from top to bottom it’s one goal: win games, win championships and they want to take everything else off your plate. And that obviously comes from Pop, RC [Buford] and the owners. It’s great symmetry out there and it trickles down to Timmy [Tim Duncan] as a player, as the leader. Top to bottom symmetry. No egos, no agendas, all basketball. That’s what makes San Antonio great.”

Charles Lee

Charles Lee is another name that was quickly linked to the Pelicans upon the Van Gundy hire, and interestingly, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski revealed yesterday that Josh Oppenheimer will join Mike Budenholzer’s bench next season. Lee could very well be seeking a new opportunity elsewhere.

Milwaukee Bucks v Orlando Magic - Game Four Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Lee’s playing career spanned the globe, where he gained invaluable experience from international leagues and likely made several important contacts. He has spent the last six years serving as an assistant coach under Budenholzer with both the Hawks and Bucks.

ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz recently included Lee in his “Hottest names on the NBA coaching market“ article.

Few assistant coaches saw a bigger season-to-season jump in our informal poll than Charles Lee, 35, who’s in his sixth season working under Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta and now Milwaukee. Fans of Lee, who played professionally overseas before spending a couple of years as an equity trader on Wall Street, tout him as a five-tool coach who is every bit as comfortable having meaningful conversations with a backup point guard as he is dining with a team owner. Those who have worked with him say he has an intuitive sense of how to inspire improvement from players but also understands high-level strategy and the preparation required to implement it. He is, in the words of one peer, someone who is “categorically going to be an NBA head coach.”

Bob Beyer

Beyer may not be familiar, but he’s been coaching basketball for close to 40 years.

Orlando Magic Media Day Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

A good deal of that time has been spent alongside Van Gundy, beginning with the Wisconsin Badgers in 1993 where they both served as assistants under Stu Jackson. However, it wasn’t until Van Gundy became the head coach of the Magic that the two would go on to forge a deep bond in the NBA totaling nine seasons together.

While in Orlando, Beyer was responsible for a lot of player development with their wings, including a number of individual sessions with JJ Redick; however, Van Gundy was most impressed by how Beyer represented an extension of himself and offered critically useful advice.

Stan didn’t describe Beyer as a coach who specializes in offense or defense, but one who is great at two attributes essential to assistants: Coming up with ideas on how to tweak a system and teaching those ideas exactly how the head coach wants them taught. Beyer ran about 75 percent of the Pistons’ film sessions last season.

“I thought he was so clear and concise in his teaching, it benefitted our team for him to do it,” Stan Van Gundy told The Oklahoman.

For instance, Beyer was one of several to recommend to Van Gundy that the Pistons needed to move away from too many pick-and-rolls and incorporate more motion in the offense. Defensively, he smartly called for more ball pressure. Those suggestions led to a fantastic 10-3 start for Detroit in 2017-18, but unfortunately, they couldn’t sustain the momentum as key injuries and a trade for Blake Griffin marred the continuity.

Regardless, with teaching and accountability being two primary reasons Van Gundy was hired by New Orleans, Bob Beyer sounds like a good candidate to help Stan achieve those goals.

“He’s not going to kiss somebody’s butt and tell them they’re doing a great job when they’re not doing a great job. I think that honesty over time … (players) have a great respect for and they can trust what he’s saying.”

Malik Allen

After concluding a 10-year playing career with Van Gundy’s Magic, Allen returned to the bench a few years later thanks to his last head coach.

Van Gundy presented Allen an opportunity on his coaching staff once landing with the Pistons and the former power forward hasn’t looked back, serving as an assistant coach in the league for the last six seasons. Most recently, he sat on the sidelines of the latest edition of the Heat, which pushed the Lakers to six games in the 2020 NBA Finals.

Miami Heat v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Allen built a strong reputation for a being hard worker and doing all of the little things since his athleticism and skill set didn’t offer any advantages as a player. That discipline and attention to detail has followed him into the coaching ranks.

“Malik approaches the job of coaching the exact same way he approached it as a player — he works his (butt) off,” Van Gundy said. “He does everything he can possibly do to get better every day. I totally trust his preparation when it’s his game plan (of an opposing team). He’s a guy that is always looking to get better.”

This mentality, I feel, would be enormously beneficial on the Pelicans and could be especially key with Zion Williamson. Whether Michael Ruffin is retained by the Pelicans or not shouldn’t factor on adding someone like Allen. According to an Eastern Conference executive who spoke to HoopsHype, the burgeoning superstar isn’t entirely happy with everyone inside the New Orleans franchise and Van Gundy is going to have to resolve the problem.

“Another issue will be how he is able to manage the broken-down relationship with regards to Zion Williamson and the performing staff.”

This relationship must be rehabbed, even if this report leans towards outlandish. Brian Windhorst mentioned something could be amiss on a Hoop Collective Podcast, hinting that the next Pelicans’ head coach would have to cultivate a really good relationship with Zion.

“It’s a big job with Zion. It’s a really big job. Not that Zion’s hard to handle, but it’s more about, this is the guy that’s got to motivate him.”

While Van Gundy is obviously going to need to get close to Zion, having a confidant among the assistant coaches who works out the superstar on a daily basis and develops a great connection feels more pivotal than ever.

If Allen can be lured away from the Heat, New Orleans should really consider meeting the asking price. If not, finding another who can assume a big portion of the responsibility of growing Zion’s game and ties to the franchise feels like a must.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.