In the midst of a busy news day in the NBA on Wednesday, the New Orleans Pelicans mutually agreed to part ways with head coach Stan Van Gundy, who was in the first year of a four-year coaching deal he signed in October 2020. One of the reported reasons for his departure was because of his rocky relationship with several players on the team due to his demanding coaching style. That mentality is exactly why the Pelicans brought him in to begin with, but it reportedly rubbed the players the wrong way.
New Orleans expected to make the postseason with Van Gundy at the helm, but instead the team took a step back in terms of development, and finished with a 31-41 record. The lack of development mixed with the ever-changing carousel of head coaches is reportedly having an impact on the team's brightest star, Zion Williamson.
There are reportedly several members within Williamson's family who don't think the Pelicans have surrounded him with the right pieces to succeed, and would rather see him on a different team, The Athletic's Shams Charania, Joe Vardon and William Guillory report.
Here's more from The Athletic:
"But for most of this season, certain Williamson family members voiced displeasure with the organization. Among the targets of their criticism was Van Gundy, who they felt was too rigid and demanding as head coach, but also with the organization, which they claim did not live up to what they felt should be the standard for a star like Williamson. Numerous opposing league executives had heard the complaints, and they were confirmed by Pelicans officials."
While it's unclear if Williamson shares the same sentiment as his family members, if they're negatively talking about the Pelicans to him, then that's not an ideal situation for New Orleans. When the Pelicans decided to trade veteran guard JJ Redick at the trade deadline this season, it reportedly "irritated" Williamson, as he grew to have a good relationship with Redick. In turn, Redick then publicly criticized the Pelicans organization on his podcast, saying "I don't think you're going to get honesty from that front office, objectively speaking."
Although Williamson is signed through 2024 on his rookie deal, the last thing the Pelicans want (and especially GM David Griffin) is upsetting their franchise centerpiece so early on in his career. There's been no stability on the coaching staff or the roster since he's entered the league, and if New Orleans wants to ensure he stays around longer than just the next few years, it'll have to make sure it can keep him happy, and more importantly that it starts winning games.
The Pelicans can take a step in that direction as early as this offseason by trying to bring back guard Lonzo Ball, who will be a restricted free agent, and someone who Williamson has openly said he would like to return to the team. It makes sense from a basketball perspective, as the two established a solid chemistry on the floor together, and if it makes Williamson happy at the same time then that's a win-win for New Orleans.