The New Orleans Pelicans and Stan Van Gundy have taken their time flirting about, with the two sides finally taking the step of marrying their futures together. As first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, New Orleans and Van Gundy finalized terms on the head coaching contract Wednesday morning. After almost a week of conversations and building on those talks, the sides came to an agreement about how the New Orleans Pelicans as an organization will move forward towards what Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin has labeled a sustainable championship culture.
According to Wojnarowski’s tweet accompanying the report, the “Pelicans were sold on Van Gundy’s abilities as a teacher with a young roster, his history of building top defensive teams and his vision for the roster in place. His personnel decisions in Detroit was a non-factor in search; he’s coming to coach.”
Winning the draft lottery and drafting Zion Williamson immediately lifted the fanbase and franchise’s spirit but this past season could have broken any team. Van Gundy and his steady record of coaching success bring some positive vibes back to New Orleans basketball. Admittedly, Van Gundy inherits a young but flawed squad but one that showed plenty of heart and determination last season. He has a career record of 523-384 (.577) in the regular-season record while going 48-43 (.527) in the playoffs and it is expected the team will again prioritize a top-6 seed as a goal for next season.
Through the patient hiring process, the Pelicans’ have renewed that faith that the best era of Pelicans’ basketball is just beginning. Van Gundy is perhaps the most qualified and respected coach New Orleans has ever employed. Likewise, Van Gundy might have landed the best job and initial starting roster of his career. He has all of the tools that led to successful seasons in Orlando and Miami, but none of the responsibilities that hindered his time in Detroit.
Van Gundy tweeted, “I’m excited to join a talented New Orleans Pelicans team. It will be an honor to work with our players and to work for Mrs. Benson and David Griffin, Trajan Langdon, their staff and the great people of New Orleans. I can’t wait to talk to our players and get the process started.”
Van Gundy’s hire has been characterized by some talking heads on ESPN and Twitter as “safe”, “uninspiring”, and “conservative.” However, those are the exact reasons fans should be excited and not upset other candidates were not chosen. The Pelicans did not bother with a rushed speed dating process or immediate big-name hire. The Pelicans were thorough in the search by talking with nine candidates, some of whom had never been a head coach in the NBA. The front office’s patient interview process worked as intended and the team was able to settle on the right person for the Pelicans’ job at this time.
Van Gundy would have been a solid hire for any team. Sources with the team have mentioned Van Gundy as being a very respectful person who is able to bring together a room. His track record of teaching and developing young talent was unmatched by any other candidate. The interview process got more serious as Van Gundy and the Pelicans’ front office discussed the roster and realized they were in agreement on many roster options and future strategies. That excitment for the job is what enticed Van Gundy away from a media career.
Most importantly, the players rallied around Van Gundy. JJ Redick has said Van Gundy is the best coach he ever played for and Josh Hart playfully tweeted out to Van Gundy after the news of the hiring was reported. As reported last week, almost every coaching candidate agreed on the value of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram but the rest of the roster garnered varied responses, Lonzo Ball especially.
Van Gundy said of Ball on his most recent Lowe Post podcast appearance, “I think sometimes we get too focused on what guys can’t do. [Ball] has a nice package of skills. They’ve got other ball-handling parts and pieces. He does not need to facilitate everything in the half-court.”
Van Gundy will bring a new mindset to how the team plays and every player will have to adjust to a new role within his systems. His first priority with the players will be instilling some discipline into the roster that has not been present for some time. Save for Coach Krzyzewski, it is safe to say that Van Gundy will be the most accomplished and demanding coach ever for most of the current roster.
Williamson will be playing for his third coach in three years, going back to Duke, as will be Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart will all be on their third coach since their last season in Los Angeles. Van Gundy will need to bring stability to the team that many players have not known professionally. That part of the job should be made easier with the help of Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick leading by example in the locker room buy-in sessions that really bring a team together.
Van Gundy has the respect of the players and agrees with the front office’s plans to shape the roster going forward. Van Gundy then sold the front office on his plan to bring an NBA Finals series to the Smoothie King Center. ESPN’s reporting of the hire was akin to a wedding announcement from that couple that just slowly formed after several social events instead of some love-at-first-sight, jaw on the floor situation. After several rounds of interviews with multiple candidates, the New Orleans Pelicans married their future Ingram-Williamson championship window dreams to the pragmatic but successful reality that is Stan Van Gundy’s coaching resume.