The man at the helm didn’t even last a full year on the job in New Orleans.
After getting hired last October following a methodical head coaching search, Stan Van Gundy and the Pelicans mutually parted company earlier today.
“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,” said Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin. “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.”
The Pelicans posted a disappointing 31-41 record in the 2020-21 campaign, finishing with just one additional win from the previous season under Alvin Gentry.
For a team led by All-Stars in Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, missing out on not only the playoffs but a spot in the play-in tournament the last two years is a glaring admission of failure.
Van Gundy’s calling card was defense, but the Pelicans fielded the eighth-worst defensive rating (113.3) in the NBA. It must be noted that after the All-Star break, though, the defense improved greatly, ranking 7th best in the league.
What likely played a significant hand in Van Gundy’s tenure coming to an early close was several of his relationships with players on the roster. From Christian Clark of Nola.com:
“It was definitely different,” reserve wing Josh Hart said. “It wasn’t the easiest transition.”
Van Gundy’s relationship with All-Star forward Brandon Ingram was strained for a majority of the season, multiple sources said.
Asked directly in May about how they had coexisted, Ingram said: “It’s OK. This is our first year together. He has a different coaching style that I’m used to seeing from most. But I was able to learn a lot of things from him this year and learn what he’s all about.”
As for who replaces Van Gundy next, several candidates have already emerged.
In search for a replacement, Pelicans are expected to circle back among some candidates from a year ago, including assistants Jacque Vaughn and Ime Udoka (Brooklyn), Charles Lee (Milwaukee) and Jason Kidd (Lakers), sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/sAduFLcEiG— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 16, 2021
Sources: Pelicans assistant coaches Teresa Weatherspoon and Fred Vinson are considered serious candidates to replace Stan Van Gundy.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) June 16, 2021
Last offseason, many followers proclaimed that the Pelicans front office had to get the next head coaching hire right. Williamson is a generational talent, and as witnessed on multiple occasions, this roster has the capability to beat a lot of the best opponents in the league. But consistency issues plagued New Orleans the entire season and so we’re right back to where we started less than a year ago.
This pattern can’t be allowed to continue. There can be no further personnel missteps. Otherwise, the risk of Zion asking out of New Orleans sometime down the road will become a very real possibility.
Yes, a pandemic led to a shortened training camp and a condensed regular season schedule, but Van Gundy took the fall today for a failure to meet expectation. It might soon be time to clean house elsewhere too if the ship doesn’t get turned around, starting with the top decision-maker in the front office.