Another day, another NBA coaching job filled.
The New Orleans Pelicans have hired Stan Van Gundy as their next head coach, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez. The news comes a day after the Indiana Pacers came to terms with former Toronto Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren. Seven of the nine head coaching jobs available this offseason have now been filled. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets openings remain.
Van Gundy will sign a four-year deal with the Pelicans, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Van Gundy previously compiled a 523-384 record in 11-plus seasons as head coach of the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons. Only four active coaches have more victories. He has served as a TNT analyst since being relieved of his duties as coach and president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons in 2018.
Van Gundy coached the Magic to the 2009 Finals with a three-point-heavy offense ahead of its time. He surrounded Dwight Howard with shooters, including 2009 All-Stars Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson. Van Gundy will be tasked with doing the same with rising stars Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday in New Orleans, with J.J. Redick as a direct bridge from those 2009 Magic to these 2020 Pelicans.
Williamson is a potential generational superstar, if he can stay healthy. Knee injuries prevented the No. 1 overall pick from making his debut until Jan. 22 and severely limited his availability in the seeding games during the season restart in Orlando. In his 19 appearances prior to the hiatus, the Pelicans operated like a playoff team, outscoring opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions with Williamson on the floor.
Likewise, Ingram captured Most Improved Player honors, emerging as an All-Star after arriving in New Orleans as part of the trade that sent Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers. A restricted free agent this offseason, the lanky 23-year-old forward is expected to sign a maximum contract extension or close to it.
At age 30, Holiday is the veteran leader of the Pelicans. He has ingrained himself into the New Orleans community since arriving in 2013, ranking as one of the NBA’s most underrated guards during that tenure. With one year plus a player option left on his contract, he is an asset both as a potential playoff contributor or possible trade chip. Pelicans general manager David Griffin also has a cache of draft assets to deal.
New Orleans also has some young talent behind Williamson and Ingram. Chief among them is Lonzo Ball, who came with Ingram in the Davis trade. The former No. 2 pick made strides as a shooter in his third season. He is a high-end facilitator with tremendous upside if Van Gundy can help him unload the baggage that followed him from L.A. The Pelicans job is an ideal fit for a coach with a history of player development.
The question is whether Van Gundy’s history of defensive success will translate to a talent group that leans offensive-minded as a small-ball outfit. He orchestrated top-10 defenses in Miami, Orlando and Detroit, largely with traditional centers Shaquille O’Neal, Howard and Andre Drummond as his defensive anchors.
Van Gundy will take over for the outgoing Alvin Gentry, who won better than half his games with the Pelicans just once in his five-year tenure, when Davis led them to the Western Conference semifinals in 2018. New Orleans has never gotten further than the second round in the franchise’s 18-year history.
Gentry was one of four Black head coaches to lose his job at season’s end. Gentry joined Luke Walton’s Sacramento Kings staff as a lead assistant earlier this month. Following the hirings of Bjorkgren and Van Gundy, only two head coach openings have been filled by Black coaches. Doc Rivers left the Los Angeles Clippers for the Philadelphia 76ers, and fellow former champion Tyronn Lue replaced Rivers in L.A. Lue was a finalist for the Pelicans position before taking the Clippers job, as were Jamahl Mosley and Will Weaver.
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