Stan Van Gundy only lasted a single season as the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, as the two sides parted ways last month after they failed to qualify for postseason play. At the time, the decision to split was described by the organization as mutual, but as it turns out, that wasn't quite the case. During his first public comments since his departure, Van Gundy made it clear the split was more one-sided than the team may have let on.
"I would say it was joint in this sense: I don't want to be somewhere they don't want me," Van Gundy said during an appearance on the "Stupodity" podcast. "And they didn't want me. I wasn't, at that point, going to fight to try to stay there. It wasn't a mutual decision."
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So, what went wrong for Van Gundy during his lone season in New Orleans? For one, he felt the roster was "too young" for a team with postseason aspirations. Also, the fact that he and Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin didn't see eye-to-eye when it came to coaching was a major contributing factor in the split.
"We just weren't on the same page at all about what coaching is all about and how coaches should be judged and everything else," Van Gundy said of Griffin. "We just looked at coaching totally different. That became apparent probably a little during the season, but certainly after the season. We were on two totally different pages. Who's right and who's wrong is up to anybody's individual perspective, but we certainly did not see things the same way."
For Van Gundy, the highlight of his brief tenure with the Pelicans was getting an opportunity to coach Zion Williamson, and he went out of his way to emphasize that Williamson wasn't a contributing factor in his departure.
"Zion's no coach killer," Van Gundy said. "He's a guy who is gonna help you win a lot of games. He plays the game the right way. One of the things I'll miss is the opportunity to continue to coach him. He's so unique in the way that he plays the game and the things that he can do. It really gets your mind spinning as a coach and you have a lot of possibilities in what you can do with him. That was fun to explore. I'm happy with what we did with Zion. I think we helped him. How anyone else felt about that would be up to them."
A report surfaced last month that Williamson's family was unhappy with Van Gundy which possibly contributed to the organization's decision to move on from him. The former Pelicans coach says he hadn't heard anything about that, though didn't deny that it's possible.
"I don't know anything about that," Van Gundy said. "In my mind, I liked coaching Zion. I had a good relationship with him. I had no problem. I think we elevated his platform that we gave him. We put him in different situations, had him handling the ball a lot, playing a lot of point guard. I think we did some good things with him.
"If they were unhappy, I didn't hear about it. Zion was unhappy with us not winning more games, but Zion never expressed to me any of that. That doesn't mean he wasn't unhappy; it's possible that they were unhappy with me and that's what led to the change."
There were high hopes when the Pelicans signed Van Gundy last year, but things obviously didn't pan out. Now the Pelicans are searching for their third coach in three seasons, while it's fair to wonder if Van Gundy's days as a head coach in the NBA are behind him.