The Stan Van Gundy era with the Pelicans is off to an inauspicious start.
According to a couple of reports, after one year with Van Gundy in charge, there is some “tension” between the veteran coach and his 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.”
This was a sentiment echoed by Scott Kushner of The Times-Picayune. While he wrote that the issues are “typical of a new coach on a disappointing team,” some of them stem from differences between Van Gundy and the Pelicans’ previous coach, Alvin Gentry.
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?
Apparently, the answer to that is not too well. But it’s also worth noting that those issues could’ve just been growing pains.
The Pelicans posted a 31-41 record during the 2020-21 campaign, a one-win improvement over their previous year. However, it’s also worth noting that the implementation of Van Gundy and his system occurred during the pandemic and was a challenge for all.
That was even acknowledged by Brandon Ingram, who referred to his first year with the veteran coach as “OK” and seemed to be hopeful about things improving as time goes on.
“This is our first year together. He has a different coaching style [than] I’m used to seeing from most,” Ingram said, per Kushner. “But I was able to learn a lot of things from him this year and learn what he’s all about. And I think he’s all about winning. He has a different message than everybody else. He breaks down pretty much every detail of it. It’s all about winning.
“Our relationship will be even better because of this year, because of what we went through with COVID. I don’t know if we’ll have another year like this with what we went through with COVID. Him trying to get all his information in to make us a better team. Our communication will be really, really good for the good of our team next year.”
Another important element: Van Gundy hadn’t been on the sidelines in two NBA seasons before coming to the Pelicans. So, it may have taken him some time to adjust to life back on the court along with the pandemic and his new team.
Van Gundy’s job doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy right now barring a surprise. So, while these tensions exist, it’s possible that they will ease if New Orleans can make the leap next season.
With Zion Williamson and Ingram on their roster, they should have a chance to do that.
But if not, then maybe the Pelicans will have to reassess Van Gundy’s role with their organization.
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