Pelicans hire Stan Van Gundy to coach young, exciting roster

Blaise Noble-Schueller, Staff Reporter

On June 15, 2019, Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that shook the NBA world. The New Orleans Pelicans had traded superstar Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers for a deal that included the young talents of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks. 

This trade meant two things. First, LeBron James got his guy, and second, the New Orleans Pelicans had one of the most exciting young rosters in the NBA. These young assets, combined with the No. 1 overall pick, who became the most anticipated prospect since James, Zion Williamson, gave the Pelicans an optimistic future.

new era
The Pelicans hire head coach Stan Van Gundy (Cecilia Hammond)

The Pelicans finished the season leaving the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, with a disappointing 30-42 record, missing the playoffs and leaving questions about the team moving forward. The biggest question revolved around former coach Alvin Gentry and if he had what it took to lead a championship roster. On Aug. 15, 2020, David Griffin, executive vice president of basketball operations for the Pelicans, answered our questions by firing Gentry. Gentry failed to make the playoffs in four of his last five seasons and had an all-time coaching record of 510-595. 

The young roster and possible-superstar potential of many players made the Pelicans coaching job one of the most sought after in the league. David Griffin had the tough decision of hiring a coach that could maximize the young players’ potential while also being able to manage injury concerns. 

Some names brought up in the coaching search included Tyronn Lue due to his proven success, Jason Kidd for his player relationships and Kenny Atkinson for his offensive schemes. However, the coach the Pelicans eventually landed on was veteran head coach Stan Van Gundy

Van Gundy is a familiar name in the NBA, both Stan and his brother Jeff have been in the NBA as both coaches and broadcasters since 1995. Stan started his coaching career as an assistant for the Miami Heat and eventually was named head coach in 2003. He continued to coach for the Orlando Magic during the Dwight Howard era and more recently coached for the Detroit Pistons before acquiring his most recent position with the Pelicans.

In Stan’s 11 years coaching, he has an record of 523 wins and 384 losses, a competitive coaching record. The biggest concern when signing Stan was his most recent 4-year stint with the Detroit Pistons. In his four years he led the Pistons to a 152-176 record. Additionally, he made huge roster moves that, in hindsight, possibly set back Detroit for the next decade to come. 

Griffin saw Stan’s struggles in Detroit but decided it wasn’t a deal breaker. Stan’s coaching style, along with experience, is what eventually made Griffin make the decision. Stan has been known to never shy away from confrontation. His tough leadership has been both criticized and celebrated. But for a core that is incredibly young and that some have called undisciplined, especially on the defensive end, it could be a beneficial move.

Though the Pelicans aren’t necessarily in win-now mode, their time is quickly approaching. Stan’s four-year contract will give him a bit of time to try to develop the young core. The Pelicans hope that Stan will be able to develop Williamson the same way he was able to develop Howard. Howard played the best basketball of his career while being coached by Stan. Orlando went to the playoffs in five straight years with one Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Howard also had the best season of his life coming second in the MVP race in the 2010-11 season.

If Stan can harness young superstar potential the way he did with Howard, The Pelicans could be in very good shape. Ball has shown flashes of potential as an elite point guard while Ingram could be a perennial league leader in scoring. Jaxson Hayes has shown glimpses of incredible defensive play. Not much hasn’t already been said about Williamson but to sum it up — MVP, best player of our generation, champion, hall of famer. None of it is out of the question with Williamson.

If Stan succeeds, he could be remembered as the coach to bring New Orleans to the promised land. If he doesn’t, he may have wasted a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Whatever the outcome may be, the New Orleans Pelicans will undoubtedly be one of the most intriguing teams to watch in the years to come.

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