Stan Van Gundy surprised by firing, doesn’t blame Zion Williamson

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Stan Van Gundy’s departure from the Pelicans came as a surprise to everyone…himself included. In his first media appearance since his firing in mid-June, Van Gundy joined the ‎Le Batard & Friends – STUpodity podcast on Friday and discussed his firing for the first time.

“Yeah, I was pretty surprised because not only after one year but it was four weeks after the end of the season,” Van Gundy told host Stugotz. “Normally, if that stuff’s going to happen, it’s going to happen quickly at the end of the year and it didn’t. I was surprised on the day it happened. I was sort of taken aback.”

At the time of Van Gundy’s firing, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin called it a mutual decision. On Friday, Van Gundy pushed back on that notion.

“I would say it was joint in this sense – I don’t want to be somewhere where they don’t want me and they want me and so I wasn’t, at that point, going to fight to try to stay there,” Van Gundy said. “It wasn’t a mutual decision. It was funny when I left Detroit, my owner there who I really liked, Tom Gores, also said it was a mutual decision and I said ‘Yeah, Tom asked me to leave and I left. I guess that’s mutual.’ This is the same thing.

“But it was clear, I think, in our postseason meetings here in New Orleans that it’s fair to say…we just weren’t on the same page at all about what coaching is all about and how coaches should be judged. We just look at coaching totally differently and that became clear probably a little bit during the season but certainly after the season. We’re just on two totally different pages. Who’s right, who’s wrong would be up to anybody’s individual perspective but we certainly did not see things the same way.”

Van Gundy went just 31-41 in his lone season with the Pelicans and never truly threatened for the playoffs, only briefly flirting with a play-in berth. Unlike many teams, injuries weren’t as big a factor in their disappointing season, though at year’s end the Pelicans were down a number of bodies including Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, among others.

Thus, then, is why it came as a shock, then, that Van Gundy was let go. Even as disappointing as the year was, the Pelicans made strides. In the second half of the season, the team ranked seventh in defensive rating, a drastic change from ranking 29th prior to the break.

A report from The Athletic suggested Williamson had a role in Van Gundy’s firing as part of a growing unhappiness with the franchise. Again, though, Van Gundy did his best to push back against that narrative as well on Friday.

“I don’t know anything about that,” he 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 thought we did some good things with him. If they were unhappy, I didn’t hear about it.

“I mean, 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 and I don’t know. It’s possible that they were unhappy with me and that was part of what led to the change. I hate it when it gets put on players that players are getting coaches fired and things like that. I think that makes players look bad and I don’t think it’s fair. Players certainly have the right to express their opinion to people and things like that but front offices and owners make decisions and they’re the ones that decide to fire people and that shouldn’t ever, ever, ever be placed on players.

“And I know this, regardless of what happened in that regard, Zion’s no coach killer,” Van Gundy added. “He’s a guy that’s going to help you win a lot of games. He plays the game the right way. I’m happy with what we did with Zion. I think we helped him. How anybody else felt about that is up to them.”

It’s an overall messy look for a Pelicans front office already facing lots of questions this offseason. The truth of how things played out sits somewhere between Griffin’s side of the story and Van Gundy’s, but it’s hard to envision many scenarios in which New Orleans doesn’t come out looking poor as a franchise as, at the very least, they spent a month searching for a coach last offseason only to fire him less than 12 months later.

Related

Woj: Nets assistant Jacque Vaughn opts to stay in Brooklyn

Report: Jacque Vaughn, Charles Lee strongest candidates for Pelicans coaching vacancy

Stan Van Gundy reacts to firing as Pelicans head coach: 'Players don't get coaches fired'